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Virtual Lunch & Learn

August 10, 2023 @ 1:00 pm - 2:30 pm

Title: August Lunch and Learn – When Harry Met Elsey: Madness, Power, and Justice in Federal-Era Baltimore

Presenter: Dr. Rob Schoeberlein, Baltimore City Archivist

Love. Sex. Intrigue. Deception. Conflict. Violence. Bigotry. Greed. A true story set in 1800s Baltimore.

The article “When Harry Met Elsie” pits a wealthy, urban, white family against a young, white woman of humble origins in a custody contest over the person and property of her husband, who some considered to be insane. The narrative, derived from archived court documents, allows us a rare glimpse into the life and the limited rights of a person society labeled as mentally ill when the field of psychiatry was in its infancy and when public opinion decided the standards for what might be termed deviant behavior. Societal beliefs and constraints, with behavioral expectations based on race, gender, and class, colored the sequence of events and informed the outcomes in this particular case. At the heart of the story is the question of whether someone considered to be mentally ill could legally marry and, in a broader sense, enjoy the same rights as other citizens, a status much revered and spoken about idealistically during the early years of our republic.

Come join Dr. Rob Schoeberlein, Baltimore City Archivist, as he discusses and takes questions about his recent Maryland Historical Magazine article, “When Harry Met Elsey: Madness, Power and Justice in Federal Era Baltimore,” a 2022 Arline Custer Memorial Award winner.


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