Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Crime of Lewdness


Behavior that is deemed morally impure or unacceptable in a sexual sense; open and public indecency tending to corrupt the morals of the community; gross or wanton indecency in sexual relations.

An important element of lewdness is openness. Lewdness is sometimes used interchangeably with licentiousness or lasciviousness, which both relate to debauchery and moral turpitude. It is a specific offense in certain state statutes and is included in general provisions in others. 1

Now WHY? you ask, did I bring this up...
The 1880 census for the village of Ooltewah, 5th civil district of James County listed the Ooltewah Jail by itself, separate from the rest of the population. The county jailer, John Fitzgerald, and his sister and daughter lived on the premises. On the 1st of June, 1880, there were only 2 inmates at the time of the census taking.  They were Sarah Hays and Elvira Cahan. They were both listed as 20 year old, white, females. In the column for relationship, they were listed as prisoner. In the next major column, they were listed as having an occupation, profession or trade, of "lewdness".

Now, we can probably all guess what this occupation is labeled in today's society.We all have our own noun or adjective for this occupation. But, we must remember that the laws of 2 centuries ago are considerably different than the laws of today. 
 Before 1880, "the cases heard by the Circuit Court included those brought by the State for crimes against the people (criminal cases), and those between individuals (civil cases). Criminal cases included murder, unlawful retailing of liquor, lewdness, public fighting and theft. Most civil cases resulted from unpaid debts".2

Hmmm! Lewdness in the same category as Murder. Go figure!

1.West's Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. Copyright 2008 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved


  1. Welcome to the GeneaBloggers family. Hope you find the association fruitful; I sure do. I have found it most stimulating, especially some of the Daily Themes.

    May you keep sharing your ancestor stories!

    Dr. Bill ;-)
    Author of "13 Ways to Tell Your Ancestor Stories" and family saga novels:
    "Back to the Homeplace" and "The Homeplace Revisited"

    1. Thanks for the comment. I have been reading your blogs for awhile. I am so sorry it has taken me so long to recognize everyones comments, but I didn't know how to reply. I am still a newby. :)

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, I am looking forward to being a part of the Geneablogging community.