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Author Topic: Real Jerks of the 19th Century  (Read 2177 times)
GCCC
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« on: September 21, 2015, 06:20:36 am »

Who were they?

We know the saints (people who left a positive legacy for society such as Babbage, Brunel, Lovelace, et al), but who were the sinners?

Granted, some of the mores and beliefs generally held in the 19th Century simply do not hold up to modern scrutiny, but times were what they were. Therefore, if the bad behavior was engaged in by the majority of a culture's people, we can't include that in this discussion; we're interested here in the extra effort put in by some people to promote themselves at the expense of others, or even "doing unto others" without personal benefit.

As an example, the exploitation of native peoples was endemic across the globe, so it was "normal" (heinous, but normal), and therefore ineligible for discussion here. However, Leopold II's actions in the Congo might be considered to be excessive even for the times, so he could be included. Businessmen then as well as now were always looking to get a leg up on their competitors, so industrialists seeking monopolies likely don't apply, but Thomas C. Durant, who swindled investors and may have run what we today would refer to as a Ponzi scheme, would. The classic example for Steampunks is how Edison dealt with Tesla, first promising him a small fortune if he solved a problem his other people couldn't solve and then laughing the promise off when the task was accomplished, then later attempting to undermine the far superior AC by kidnapping and electrocuting pets using that current. It can be safely argued that Jack the Ripper was a real jerk to women (to put it mildly), but we don't know who he/she/they was/were, so that wouldn't qualify, either.

We do not want to limit this discussion to Europeans/Western cultures, nor to a profession, class, etc. Individuals from any nation, any culture, any ethnicity, any occupation is up for nomination. I know Western individuals may have more readily accessible information to judge how big a jerk they were, but let's really try to find those non-Western and/or obscure people as well.

Once you've nominated a person, be sure to defend your choice.
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Banfili
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« Reply #1 on: September 21, 2015, 08:37:46 am »

J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/479892_3
Famously or infamously renowned for experimental surgery in the field of gynecology. Black or Irish American women of the lower classes were perceived to not feel pain as severely as their wealthy, upper-class white counterparts, who had the benefit of anaesthesia. Read the article and decide for yourself!
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Banfili
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« Reply #2 on: September 21, 2015, 08:41:28 am »

Sir Richard Owen: the archetypal villain.
http://friendsofdarwin.com/articles/owen/

Again, a 'make up your own mind' case. His 'villainy' appears to be on account of his conflict with Huxley, Darwin's 'bulldog' defender.
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GCCC
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« Reply #3 on: September 21, 2015, 06:20:42 pm »

J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/479892_3
Famously or infamously renowned for experimental surgery in the field of gynecology. Black or Irish American women of the lower classes were perceived to not feel pain as severely as their wealthy, upper-class white counterparts, who had the benefit of anaesthesia. Read the article and decide for yourself!


Do you have another site for him? You need an account to read this article.
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GCCC
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2015, 07:02:02 pm »

Sir Richard Owen: the archetypal villain.
http://friendsofdarwin.com/articles/owen/

Again, a 'make up your own mind' case. His 'villainy' appears to be on account of his conflict with Huxley, Darwin's 'bulldog' defender.


My personal take, after reading the article, is that he did nothing extraordinary to earn vilification. His attitudes and beliefs were very much within the mainstream of society, and I see no real effort taken to undermine Darwin and/or Huxley apart from what was (and remains) common, i.e., debates, letter writing, and so forth. I am of course open to further discussion, however.

Compare him to the actions of Cope and Marsh*, however, during the Bone Wars...





*Although, in fairness to Cope, it appears Marsh instigated the feud.
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pakled
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« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2015, 02:35:17 am »

next thing you know, they'll bring up the Piltdown Man...Wink Depends on what you consider. I mean, if you're a marching band fan, you're going to have troubles with Babbage. If you want to get huffed on Nitrous, check with Colt...etc...Wink

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GCCC
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« Reply #6 on: September 22, 2015, 03:02:18 am »

Most people of the 19th Century either did something or believed something that is incompatible to today's sensibilities. Some of what they did may have been wrong-headed or had unintended consequences, but those individuals did so, by and large, with an absence of malicious intent.

We're looking for people who really went above and beyond what was considered the "norm" of the time.

That norm could be deviated even from a practice/belief that was itself abhorrent, such as Leopold II's treatment of the natives in the Congo. Or, to use a modern example, even Al-Qaeda thinks ISIS goes to far.
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GCCC
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« Reply #7 on: September 22, 2015, 03:16:02 am »

J. Marion Sims, the Father of Gynecology: Hero or Villain?
http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/479892_3
Famously or infamously renowned for experimental surgery in the field of gynecology. Black or Irish American women of the lower classes were perceived to not feel pain as severely as their wealthy, upper-class white counterparts, who had the benefit of anaesthesia. Read the article and decide for yourself!


Okay, I looked him up via Wikipedia (of course, being what that is, I'd still rather have the article you originally mentioned).

May I say, "Ugh"?

What he did to those poor women is horrifying. Having said that, so far I've been unable to ascertain if his actions weren't acceptable for the times. Anasthesia was still not generally accepted, and the legal status of slaves was that of property. And, it seems, his experiments resulted in a lot of good. But his methodology...*shudder*...

That one is such a close call, I'm going to leave it to the readers of this thread to pass judgement on Dr. Sims. Thoughts, pro or con?
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Theophania_Elliott
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« Reply #8 on: September 22, 2015, 08:34:10 am »

Well, the Medscape article quoted by Banfili (http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/479892_3) has the following:

Some critics have suggested that the reason Sims left his native South had more to do with gossip about his immoral slave experiments than with his physical health.[13] In fact, he found himself in a similar situation in New York, as his Woman's Hospital catered to destitute Irish immigrant women, whose inferior social status did not allow them to decline questionable treatments. He was criticized directly for unethical experimentation by his colleagues and the hospital administration during the acrimonious debates of the 1870s: The Lady Managers began to be convinced that the lives of all the patients in the institution were being threatened by these mysterious experiments.

**Note: If you need to register to get to the Medscape article, registration is free.

So we certainly can't say that his experiments were regarded as wholly acceptable at the time.

If we count him a villain, he's an interesting one, because his "villainies" did have beneficial results - for other women in the future.

When we're looking at whether an action was regarded as generally acceptable at the time, we also have to consider which society we're talking about. In the UK, the anti-slavery movement could possibly be regarded as having started in 1772, with Somersett's Case effectively ending slavery in Britain. The slave trade was outlawed in 1807. In 1843, slavery was made illegal in the whole of the British Empire.

On the other hand, in America, slavery was not finally outlawed until 1865, and until that point (and after), there was a considerable degree of opinion that slavery was not only acceptable, but right (encouraged by the economic imperative of an economy - in the Southern States - ultimately based on slave labour).

So, in the period where slavery was regarded as illegal and abhorrent in some areas, but socially acceptable and right in others, whose morality do you use as a yardstick? You can't automatically use the society in which the person lives, if that society itself is regarded as morally corrupt by other societies: consider Nazi Germany. I don't think that anyone would argue that the treatment of the Jews was acceptable in Germany simply because the Nazi government regarded it so.

I don't think we're going to have much luck finding many villains who were purely villainous - most people just don't work that way (though thanks for Leopold; I'll file him for later). Sims thought he was doing good, and that was why he had the strength of will to carry on doing what he did, even in the face of opposition from his colleagues and his family. Villains who were more ambiguous - like Sims - are more interesting, I think. They make you actually consider the ethics of the situation, rather than just sitting back feeling superior.

The 19th century was a period of great advances in science and technology, and with great advances you also have the opportunity for great sacrifices - often by the unwilling and powerless, though sometimes by the willing (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-experimentation_in_medicine). It was also a period of religious activity, the Christianity of the 19th century having a particularly paternalistic flavour (see Christian support for slavery in the American South) - it's very easy to treat people as lesser, if you believe it's for their own good.

If you'll accept institutional evil, you can have the Irish Magdalen Laundries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_laundries_in_Ireland - there's actually been some publicity about that, relatively recently.
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Atterton
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« Reply #9 on: September 22, 2015, 01:54:36 pm »

One villain would be Typhoid Mary. She knew that she could infect people with typhus, and had been warned against taking jobs that could involve passing on the infection. Yet she repeatedly worked as a cook, using false names, getting discovered when people fell ill. In the end they had no choice but to lock her up.
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« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2015, 06:34:07 pm »

...Some critics have suggested that the reason Sims left his native South had more to do with gossip about his immoral slave experiments than with his physical health.[13] In fact, he found himself in a similar situation in New York, as his Woman's Hospital catered to destitute Irish immigrant women, whose inferior social status did not allow them to decline questionable treatments. He was criticized directly for unethical experimentation by his colleagues and the hospital administration during the acrimonious debates of the 1870s: The Lady Managers began to be convinced that the lives of all the patients in the institution were being threatened by these mysterious experiments....

...So we certainly can't say that his experiments were regarded as wholly acceptable at the time.

If we count him a villain, he's an interesting one, because his "villainies" did have beneficial results - for other women in the future...

Thanks for the information from Banfili's article. Reading that, in addition to having slept on the question, I am now in favor of putting him in the the "sinner" column. The thing about villains is that they never see themselves as the villain. They see themselves as the hero, who must do questionable things to achieve the greater good. In the case of Sims, his actions did lead to a greater good, but his methodology was seen as excessive by others within his profession. And, he clearly knew about the benefits of anesthesia (as evidenced by his decision to use it on his white patients), yet chose not to use any on his test subjects. (That one poor woman underwent thirty such experimental procedures!) Additionally, we shouldn't forget the experiments performed on infants.

...When we're looking at whether an action was regarded as generally acceptable at the time, we also have to consider which society we're talking about...

I absolutely agree. What's acceptable in one culture/society may very well be unacceptable in another. We should be cautious. I find it telling, however, that even in the slave-holding U.S. South, Sims' actions were raising eyebrows.

It may be that Sims is now our "benchmark" case for inclusion on this list. Thoughts?

...I don't think we're going to have much luck finding many villains who were purely villainous - most people just don't work that way... Sims thought he was doing good, and that was why he had the strength of will to carry on doing what he did, even in the face of opposition from his colleagues and his family. Villains who were more ambiguous - like Sims - are more interesting, I think. They make you actually consider the ethics of the situation, rather than just sitting back feeling superior...

Indeed. Outside of caricatures of the villainous archetype, very few people wake up in the morning and think, "Hmm, how can I make the world a more unpleasant place today?" People like Sims are more interesting "villains", for exactly the reasons you mentioned. The "robber barons" of the U.S. Gilded Age created monopolies, fought against workers' rights, bribed politicians...and also gave us museums, libraries, etc.* It is precisely these sorts of ambiguously "evil" people I'm hoping show up here in this thread.


*Okay, bad example, since most of these "gifts" were efforts to ameliorate their misdeeds.

...If you'll accept institutional evil, you can have the Irish Magdalen Laundries: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Magdalene_laundries_in_Ireland - there's actually been some publicity about that, relatively recently.

I would certainly accept institutional evil (especially since that can usually be traced back to one person's twisted philosophy). I'd not heard of the Magdalen Laundries before; I'll be reading up on them, but they certainly look like they fit the bill.

One villain would be Typhoid Mary. She knew that she could infect people with typhus, and had been warned against taking jobs that could involve passing on the infection. Yet she repeatedly worked as a cook, using false names, getting discovered when people fell ill. In the end they had no choice but to lock her up.

Excellent nominee. Does anyone wish to offer a counter-argument for her inclusion?
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Theophania_Elliott
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« Reply #11 on: September 22, 2015, 10:04:13 pm »

I would argue for Mary's inclusion. She demonstrates a different type of villainy: selfishness and wilful refusal to amend one's behaviour when it's made clear that one is (unintentionally) harming others. It's less flamboyant, less exciting, but her deliberate choices caused significant harm to innocent bystanders all the same.
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Atterton
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« Reply #12 on: September 22, 2015, 10:28:49 pm »

Where do we put Alexander Graham Bell? His invention of the telephone seems to have been a scam, he did however do lots of charitable work for the deaf. He was also an advocate of eugenics, which tends to rub people the wrong way these days.
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Atterton
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« Reply #13 on: September 22, 2015, 10:33:29 pm »

Robert Peary was a real jerk.
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GCCC
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« Reply #14 on: September 23, 2015, 12:20:27 am »

I would argue for Mary's inclusion. She demonstrates a different type of villainy: selfishness and wilful refusal to amend one's behaviour when it's made clear that one is (unintentionally) harming others. It's less flamboyant, less exciting, but her deliberate choices caused significant harm to innocent bystanders all the same.

I concur; her behavior was definitely of a villainous nature. Did the government never think to offer her a pension, so that she would not be need to continually seek re-employment? It would seem that might have saved some lives. 

Where do we put Alexander Graham Bell? His invention of the telephone seems to have been a scam, he did however do lots of charitable work for the deaf. He was also an advocate of eugenics, which tends to rub people the wrong way these days.

Lots of people of the era were supporters of the idea of eugenics, so we may have to give him a pass on that one. I had heard that Bell's patent application only got to the patent office about an hour before Gray got there with his, but I have never heard his development described as an outright scam. Would you mind elaborating?

Robert Peary was a real jerk.

The Arctic explorer? Please explain.
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« Reply #15 on: September 23, 2015, 05:36:16 am »

After watching this documentary, I am now of the opinion that any physician who questioned the value of and/or refused/neglected to use anesthetics does indeed qualify for jerkhood.

http://brassgoggles.co.uk/forum/index.php/topic,46677.0.html
(Warning:  It's a bit hard to watch at times. Excellent documentary, regardless.)

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RJBowman
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« Reply #16 on: September 23, 2015, 12:52:27 pm »

George Pullman, engineer, industrialist, inventor of luxury train travel. He build one of the first company towns just outside of Chicago, then set about to give company towns a bad name.

First he required all of his workers to rent homes in his wholly-owned town; if they didn't want to travel miles to shop, they pretty much had to shop in Pullman's stores. He owned the newspapers, and banned public speeches and town meetings. He prohibited private charitable organizations. He had a monopoly on church buildings in his town, and made the rents so high that churches refused to rent them, and the workers stopped going to church.

Then when a recession came, he lowered wages but kept the rents the same, and continued to withhold rent from the workers' paychecks. This lead to the Pullman Strike, which was shut down by federal troops sent by Illinois Governor Grover Cleveland. After a Federal investigation of the strike and numerous lawsuits, the Supreme Court ordered Pullman to sell his town, and it was annexed by Chicago.

After Pullman died, his grave was covered with eighteen inches of reinforced concrete to prevent desecration by his workers.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2015, 01:02:01 pm by RJBowman » Logged
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« Reply #17 on: September 23, 2015, 06:24:52 pm »

Yeah, I'd have to say that qualifies. He gets my vote, at any rate.

Any objections, or do we go ahead and include Pullman?
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« Reply #18 on: September 23, 2015, 06:34:47 pm »

As I anticipated, we're getting nominees who are British and American with little prompting. But Europe is more than Britain, and North America is more than the U.S.A.

I know we've got members here from all over Europe, Canada, Mexico, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. I presume from elsewhere on the planet, as well. Who were your individuals who took that extra step to make the lives of others unpleasant?
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« Reply #19 on: September 23, 2015, 07:58:37 pm »

Agustin de Iturbide, who was a general in the  Spanish Continental army of Mexico and fought the insurgents between 1810 (declaration of Independence) and 1821 when the Mexican Spanish nobility allied with the insurgents against Spain.

As a military man he had a reputation for being pompous. He was so unpopular that the Royalists and even his own men hated him for his cruelty.

He became Agustin I Emperor of Mexico because the insurgents needed him, but otherwise within the year he was quickly replaced by a republic under the presidency of Guadalupe Victoria.

Then came the war of Independence hero Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna, who was equally pompous, and several decades later would sell a huge percentage of Mexican territory (basically most of the US West, from New Mexico to California), for very little money, when threatened by his American captors. The Texans already hated him for his actions at The Alamo during the Texas war of Independence.

In spite of being exiled and hated, Santa Anna was called back for duty many times, like for example, when the French invaded Mexico. He was severely wounded in the leg during a battle, and had to have his leg amputated, but managed to organise a burial precession with full military honors for his leg!!!

Then came the second Emperor of Mexico, Prince Ferdinand Maximilian, from Austria, of whom we can honestly say he was not a villain, but rather a naive and well meaning man controlled by the interest of France under Napoleon III, when it was suggested that the Mexican nobility recognize and yield the crown back to  the Hapsburgs. While much more gentle and progressive in his thinking, Emperor Maximilian I was nonetheless immersed in the trappings and inequities of royalty.
« Last Edit: September 23, 2015, 10:31:42 pm by J. Wilhelm » Logged

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« Reply #20 on: September 23, 2015, 08:13:20 pm »

Santa Anna was dodgy, alright. He had a habit of arranging things so that people who were incompetent in the job would take his place, so that when things became royally screwed over the people would beg for his return. He was kicked out and brought back in eleven times. The devil you know, and all that.

I'm split over Maximilian, however. As you said, he was well-meaning but naive. Worth a second look.
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« Reply #21 on: September 23, 2015, 11:02:51 pm »

Santa Anna was dodgy, alright. He had a habit of arranging things so that people who were incompetent in the job would take his place, so that when things became royally screwed over the people would beg for his return. He was kicked out and brought back in eleven times. The devil you know, and all that.

I'm split over Maximilian, however. As you said, he was well-meaning but naive. Worth a second look.


Maximilian is fondly remembered in Mexico. Why President Benito Juarez had to execute him, is questionable to modern ears, but obvious to people in the 19th C.  Abraham Lincoln may have had an opinion on Maximilian's execution (Monroe Doctrine). However, Maximilian set the pace for industralization and renewed non Hispanic immigration from Europe

The following decades saw British industry come into Mexico to exploit the mineral resources, and naturally locomotives took the lead , setting the stage for Italian and French migration and a very pro European domestic policy.

Eventually this pro European policy would produce great progress at the expense of political unrest, as the policy was seen as racial favoritism toward the white population, a perennial social thorn in Mexico, left over from the Conquest. When the last administration of the 19th C under Porfirio Diaz took over, the policies combined with a dictatorship simply led to a civil war, the so-called "Revolution" of 1910.

Which brings me to the next jerk: President Porfirio Diaz..., basically competing for the longest rule ever, he brought great progress to the country, but triggered the Revolution of 1910.

A historical based fiction based on the Porfirio Diaz period:

El Atentado (Trailer oficial Alta resolución)
« Last Edit: September 24, 2015, 12:16:18 am by J. Wilhelm » Logged
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« Reply #22 on: September 23, 2015, 11:30:56 pm »

Díaz definitely qualifies.

Do you know if that film is available in English? Or at least with subtitles?
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« Reply #23 on: September 24, 2015, 12:09:21 am »

Díaz definitely qualifies.

Do you know if that film is available in English? Or at least with subtitles?

Someone posted the film in 4 parts, but its only got Spanish CC subtitles. I'll keep looking. It's been 5 years since I first saw that film


https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=GRni6qVYIpI
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=EiBUxD9jQB0
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WzybkpCB7Lc
https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=cJQOiwMMbx8
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« Reply #24 on: September 24, 2015, 12:16:10 am »

Thanks!
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