200 Plus: The Senator vs. the Schoolteacher
The Senator vs. the Schoolteacher
Sex scandals were nothing new to American politics, whether it was Thomas Jefferson keeping a slave as his mistress or Sen. Dan Sickles of New York shooting his wife’s lover in cold blood across the street from the White House. Sometimes, however, the scandal exposed a double standard in American laws. Sickles was acquitted by an all-male jury and remained in office even after confessing.
But by the mid-1800s, things were changing. Women were demanding more rights and standing up for them, such as Susan B. Anthony, who was arrested in 1876 on the charge of illegal voting in a congressional election and found guilty. She declared she had voted “the straight Republican ticket.”
As the nation became more industrialized, more women were forced to leave the home and find work, usually with male employees. Long before the term “sexual harassment in the workplace” was coined or Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill were born, a young female schoolteacher from Tuckerton went head-to-head with the richest, most powerful man in Ocean County.
Ephraim P. Emson was born in Toms River in 1829. He made his fortune in cranberries and owned 15,000 acres in Colliers Mills. Emson was repeatedly elected a county freeholder and served as a Democratic assemblyman, senator and judge from a predominately Republican county.
His hobby was horse racing, and he owned 40 horses and had two tracks on his property. But he was also a philanthropist, building at his own expense a church and school for the people of Colliers Mills. The New York Sun described him in a May 17, 1886, article.
“The Hon. Ephraim Emson is not only an able bodied man, but he is a man of means and importance hereabouts. He runs the village store, lives in a big barracks of a house, and owns pretty much everything in town. He has taken an active part in politics; has been once in the Senate and twice in the Assembly. For more than twenty years he has been a member of the Board of Freeholders of this county. He likes to have his own way and generally he has it. He has a large number of people to whom by exercising his bare power of property, saying nothing of his influence, he could make himself painfully unpleasant if they ventured to play at cross purposes with him.”
On the other side was Lovie Blackman, a Quaker schoolteacher born in Tuckerton in 1857. She had left home and was an early graduate of the new State Normal School in Trenton (today the College of New Jersey). She took a position at a school near Colliers Mills.
The National Police Gazette reported, “Miss Blackman is an attractive and remarkably keen-witted lady, about twenty-four years old. Her parents are Quakers, and they reside in Tuckerton. For some time she taught school in Midwood, a few miles from here, and she was not only liked as a teacher, but respected for her womanly dignity of character.”
According to The Sun, “It was, Miss Blackman says, through the seductive influence of candy that the respectable Senator and Assemblyman first conveyed to her that he looked upon her with the eye of favor … he had working for him a young man called Ive Reynolds, who frequently drove over from Collier’s Mills to call upon Miss Blackman at Midwood, where she was teaching. Senator Emson says it isn’t so, but Ive avers that it was a frequent practice of the Senator’s when he (Ive) started on one of these trips to Midwood, to take the most gorgeous red sticks of candy right out of one of the jars on his store shelf.”
Then, according to the Police Gazette, “At last, after long solicitation on the Senator’s part, so Miss Blackman says she decided to abandon her school at Midwood and take charge of the one in the Senator’s little school house in Collier’s Mills.”
The Sun discovered things weren’t going as Emson planned.
“Mr. Reynolds in the meantime continued his attentions to Miss Blackman and made rather more progress than did the Senator. The Senator peremptorily dismissed Mr. Reynolds from his service. He did not, however, according to Miss Blackman’s story, cease his attentions to her.”
But it was over. The Police Gazette picks up the story.
“He did not, however, according to Miss Blackman’s story, cease his attentions to her, and these attentions she says culminated one morning last September, when Ephraim coming to the school house before the scholars arrived on the pretence of winding up the clock, did then and there make improper proposals, which Miss Blackman repelled with proper indignation.”
Emson was used to getting his way, according to The Sun.
“‘From that time,’ said Miss Blackman yesterday to a Sun reporter, ‘Ephraim began a series of persecutions which drove me nearly wild. He circulated slanderous reports about my relations with Mr. Reynolds and about my character generally. He tried his best to get me removed from the place, which for more than a year he urged me to take with a view to bettering myself. He would have got me out had he been able to control the three school trustees. Some of these trustees, Judge Conover among them, had opposed my taking the school at first, but at Ephraim’s insistence they consented. When however he wanted to throw me out, and everybody knew why he did, these very trustees who had opposed me would not hear of it.’”
The Trenton Times gave Emson’s version in a March 22, 1886, article.
“A few months ago he conceived a violent dislike for Miss Blackman, who has been the teacher of Collier’s Mills school for about a year. She came well recommended from the State Normal School and received ex-Senator Emson’s endorsement at that time. The reason of his recent change of feeling toward her is said to have been a desire to put a friend of his family in her place. His fellow trustees of the school were not disposed to discharge Miss Blackman, who has made a very successful teacher and excellent disciplinarian, and Emson was unable to secure a majority. The board was equally divided on the question as to whether Miss Blackman should stay or go.”
Blackman responded to his reasons.
“He denies that he sent me candy, does he? He did send me candy, and not only that, but I was foolish enough to eat some of it once, and I had like to have died of dyspepsia. It was awful candy. What I did on the 15th of March last I did because I was nearly insane from that man’s cowardly attacks on me. I could stand it no longer, and I had to do something.”
The schoolhouse was packed for the meeting, and according to The Sun, Blackman was ready.
“It was at a trustee meeting, or rather a meeting for the election of trustees, and Senator Emson was on hand to get control of the Board, so it was said, in order to put Miss Blackman out. Miss Blackman had … whips conveniently hidden behind a map that hung on the wall, with their ends protruding just far enough to be within easy grasp. She had made up her mind, she said, that if she saw any indication of the spirit by which she believed him to be actuated, she would bring matters to a crisis at once.”
The schoolteacher was about to strike a blow for women’s rights – literally!
Next Week: Emson vs. Blackman.