Warsaw’s Sensation: A (So Far) Unsolved Drama From 1879
Okay, you guys, you know I love every now and then to go looking through the old Sedalia newspaper, the Sedalia Bazoo.
I was looking through an issue from 1879 the other day online and I saw that someone had recently highlighted, or "clipped" a lawsuit from October of that year. And Let Me Tell You. It sounds downright SCANDALOUS.
Well, for back then, anyway. Back then you look at someone's ankle wrong and you're a social pariah. Anyways. Let me set the scene for you.
We're in Warsaw, 1879. Think horses, brick streets, a lot of sitting in parlors and announcing you're leaving town in the local newspaper. A young woman, Miss Cynthia Lane, had grown up there. By all accounts she's a nice, church going woman that did well in social circles. She came from a respected but poor family. The article notes her family is "honest". When she was around twenty four, she decided to "apply for and secure a school", which if I'm reading that right (and you know I might be wrong), means she was going to be become a teacher, think one room schoolhouse kind. From what I recall, schoolteachers back then were held to very strict social standards. Couldn't get married, had to dress a certain way, had a strict curfew, etc. Well, Cynthia, to all appearances, kept up with that. She got her school set up in the same neighborhood as a rich, prominent farmer named John C. Stewart.
Cynthia was in the neighborhood, so she had to have some place to live. John rented a room out to her. Apparently all went well at first, and then John allegedly started talking smack about Cynthia. And Cynthia was not about to take that lying down. She decided to sue him to the tune of what would be today a little over a quarter million dollars.
The Petition, among other things, charges the defendant with "uttering and giving currency to the fact that plaintiff was an indecent woman", etc.
According to the Bazoo, this was nothing for John.
Mr. Stewart is well-fixed as regards to this world's good, and a judgement for $10,000 would be perfectly good.
John's got racks on racks, apparently. And apparently, this was the talk of the town for a long time. Nobody had ever had anything bad to say about John or Cynthia before this, and you know how the rumor mill gets. Imagine the receipts today. She seems innocent, and if she is, suing would be the way to clear it up. Back then, nobody could get it straight if he even really said anything. Or was Cynthia making it up? A quarter mil is a pretty sweet sum to a young schoolteacher.
But you see, that's the problem. I can't find the outcome of what happened (at least, not yet). I searched and searched and I think the only thing I'll be able to do is start either going down to Warsaw and looking through old records? Maybe there's a Warsaw Historian that can help me out? Well, the Benton County Museum is closed until spring, so no help there at the moment. I've reached out to them online, so we'll have to see. Google is not helping, and a lot of stuff that's uploaded online doesn't go back that far.
Did John really say anything? If he did, why did he say it? What did he actually say? If he said it, was he correct? Or, was he just seeking some kind of societal revenge against her? My mind is racing with possibilities. Maybe he made a move on her and she rejected him, so he started talking, and she defended herself. Maybe she really did like him on the side (he was married with a family), they broke up, he said some things out of anger, and she decided to sue. Or maybe he mistakenly misinterpreted something she did or said, and ended up in court against an innocent woman? Or maybe Cynthia was just tired of working so hard in the schoolhouse, saw a money grab from a rich dude, and took it? I could easily see both sides of this story.
And most importantly.....who won?!
Someone has to know something. Warsaw, I'm looking to you. Did you ever hear stories from your Great Grandparents or even Grandparents or other relatives about this famous case? Apparently it was very bitter and all the talk of the town. If you've heard stories or if this is your family, please know I'm just speaking from historical curiosity. No disrespect, I'm just dying to know what actually happened and what the result was.
I'll keep looking and listening to you, and hopefully I'll be able to get a conclusion for all this. Seriously, ask your Grandma!