Today we return to looking at the lives of everyday people in Elmira. Today’s subject is Maggie Scouten. Her troubles were well documented in the local news. News reports covered her absconding with a married man, her arrests for intoxication and prostitution, and the frequent assaults and robberies committed against her.
Maggie Scouten first appears in Elmira newspapers in 1904. It is not clear where she came from, but a search on one of her purported husbands leads to a Mary Van Scouten in Lockport, NY in 1900. Due to several other newspaper articles in the next decade on charges of bigamy, representing herself as a widow, and an appearance of a John Van Scouten in Elmira, Mary could very well be Maggie.
Newspaper articles grow increasingly snarky towards Maggie as her troubles increase. She is sentenced to jail a few times and sent away at least once. A few short years later, she dies alone and without family.
Was she a prostitute? It is not clear. It would be safe to say that she struggled with alcohol abuse. But how could a woman with no husband support herself? It is entirely possible that she turned to sex work in order to make ends meet.
A timeline of her troubles
June 18, 1904: Maggie Scouten posed as Andrew Horn’s wife in Buffalo. He deserted his actual wife and family in Elmira. When Maggie Scouten came back to Elmira, Annie Horn (Andrew’s daughter) pressed charges alleging she was a ‘disorderly person’ and Maggie was placed in police custody. Andrew Horn was arrested in Buffalo for abandoning his family.
July 13, 1904: Due to a technicality, Maggie Scouten’s sentence of 100 days in prison for prostitution and vagrancy is overturned. It was determined that she was not properly sentenced, and she was not a vagrant. She had pled not guilty but did not receive a trial.
Sept 3, 1904: The news contains a report that George Moser has stolen $15 from Maggie’s bedroom. He says he was an invited guest and he was asked to enter Maggie Scouten’s residence. Maggie Scouten says he took her bag containing $15. The case was not deemed strong enough and George was released from custody.
Dec 7, 1905: Maggie Scouten appears in court to dispute an arrest and charge of intoxication. The news reports that she has returned after an absence of several months, and last year (1904) was a frequent offender who kept the court recorder busy doling out jail sentences. The report, growing ever snarkier as the writing progresses, says she appears well-attired in a light fawn automobile coat and silk dress, but makes note that she appears without a hat “there has been too much talk about wearing hats lately anyhow and Ms. Scouten appeared very properly wearing a bright red fascinator over her head. That Ms. Scouten is getting stylish is further evidenced by a new handle to her name. From now on it is Maggie Van Scouten if you please, with emphasis on the ‘Van.”’ She says she was in a private house, and makes note that it was empty, and disputes that she was intoxicated.
Dec 8, 1905: Maggie Scouten has her trial for intoxication after pleading not guilty the day before. People of Slabtown served as witnesses. Scouten was found guilty and had no money, so she served thirty days in jail instead of paying $10, as she had spent all her money in securing legal represenatation. She had no money to avoid jail. Slabtown in Elmira was a section of the city between Lake St and Clemens Center Parkway, known for the unique construction of its houses from wide slabs of wood instead of standard 2×4 framing. It was a predominantly African-American community that was razed for the construction of the John Jones Apartments, now known as Libertad. It was first settled in the 1840s and 1850s by people who had escaped slavery in the American South. It became Elmira’s first integrated neighborhood, housing both African Americans and whites of recent European emigration. White Elmirans from other neighborhoods looked down upon the residents of Slabtown.
Dec 11, 1905: A man named John J. Van Scouten from Corning is arrested in Slabtown for intoxication and for saying he intended to poison the police officer with carbolic acid due to the arrest of Maggie. John is taken to jail and doesn’t have enough money for bail. Maggie has secured money for her bail, and has a little extra, and bails out her husband. The news reports that Maggie had announced herself as a widow, but that her husband looked very much alive.
Dec 22, 1905: Two weeks later, Maggie reports that someone has stolen her bed. The journalist writes “Maggie Van Scouten, who is better known to the police than any other section of polite society, has lost her bed. Some one stole Maggie’s bed from her house on Baldwin Street, not while she was occupying it however. The claim of the woman, who appeared at police headquarters today and asked that Detective Gradwell be put on the case, is that her bed was taken from the house lately and sold to a second-hand dealer. She can’t even sleep under the bed now, but has to lay right out in the open in the middle of the room, and Maggie don’t like this just at Christmas time.”
Jan 3, 1906: Just a few days into the new year, she is arrested again for intoxication. “It is Mrs. Van Scouten’s contention that the police arrest her just for the mere joy of it and not because she ever fails to walk the straight and narrow path properly. At her last trial she swore she hadn’t taken a drink since last July and stated that perhaps it was just beginning to take effect.”
Jan 10, 1906: “Mrs. Maggie Van Scouten appeared in police court yesterday afternoon and withdrew her former plea of not guilty and pleading guilty to the charge of intoxication in a public place. [she was] sentenced to pay a fine of $10 or spend twenty days in jail, thus valuing Mrs. Van Scouten’s presence at only 50 cents a day whereas the average offender is worth a dollar.”
May 28, 1907: “Another Bigamy arrest possible: If the conditions prove to be as the police believe them in a case of alleged bigamy in which William Van Scouten, Maggie Van Scouten and Martha Kelly, who pleaded guilty this morning to petit larceny and was sentenced to a year in jail, are the principals, the woman who was placed behind the bars will have a companion whom she has known well for a long time.
The police have obtained information from Maggie Van Scouten and Martha Kelly which leads them to believe that William Van Scouten is a bigamist. They allege that several years ago he married Maggie Van Scouten, a Police Court Character, and that six weeks ago he transferred all his attentions from his wife to Martha Kelly and that the two were married in Horseheads. Martha Kelly has admitted that she and Van Scouten were married but insists that she did not know that Van Scouten was already a husband.”
Aug 10, 1908: Maggie Scouten was brutally beaten by James Qualey. But since she does not stay in the courtroom, Mr. Qualey is allowed to go free. “James Qualey, aged 30, on Friday was arrested on a warrant charging him with having assaulted Margaret Scouten, of 456 Baldwin Street, in a brutal manner. When first arraigned Qualey protested his innocence and his trial was set down for this afternoon at 2 o’clock.
Before the trial Margaret Scouten was around the court room but when the trial was begun she could not be found. Consequently the acting recorder discharged the prisoner on the ground that there had been no appearance on the part of the complainants.“
July 16, 1909: Less than a year after the beating, her death is reported. “Mrs Margaret Scouten dies yesterday afternoon at 2:30 o’clock at her home, 654 Baldwin Street. The remains were taken to Hughes & Sullivan’s undertaking rooms and the funeral arrangements have not been completed.” She was buried in an unconsecrated plot in St. Peter and Paul’s Cemetery in Elmira, NY.
July 24, 1909: “The will of Mrs. Margaret Scouten has been admitted to probate in Surrogate’s court and Mrs. Anna Auten has been appointed administratix. Mrs. Scouten was a well known woman, who resided on Baldwin Street in the vicinity of East 4th St several years. She was ill for a short time and was cared for by her friend Anna Auten, to whom her estate consisting of a small life insurance policy for about $260 and a small amount of household goods is awarded for her service. Several other persons had an idea they were to share in the estate but Mrs. Scouten called in Attorney Wilcox two weeks ago and executed her will, the contents of which were kept secret until after Mrs. Scouten’s death last week. Some of the disappointed ones threatened to make trouble but no claims have been filed against the estate as yet.”
Who was she?
Finally, some searching of the men reported as her husbands has lent a clue. An ancestry search for John Scouten led to a 1900 Census record for a John Scouten and his wife, Margaret, in Harrisburg, PA. Off of that clue, I found a Pennsylvania marriage record from October 1899 for John and Maggie. This gives her maiden name as Stonestreet and lists her parents as deceased. Ages on these documents would place her year of birth around 1860, making her around 48 years of age at her death in Elmira. She self-reported on the census that her parents were born in Ireland and she was born in Virginia. The census also lists that they have one child, though that child doesn’t appear to be living with them at the time of the census. If conceived around the time of their marriage, the child would be a year or less in age. On the marriage license, John lists his parents as Simeon and Deborah, which matches up to the 1870 US Census of the Scouten Family in Corning, NY, with Simeon, Deborah, and son John. Towards the end of his life, John wound up living with his brother, States Scouten, in Corning. John passed away in 1925 and is buried in Hope Cemetery in Corning, NY.
A further dive into Maggie’s origins stays hazy, as the only Margaret Stonestreet I could find who was born around 1860 in Virginia (now West Virginia) appears to be a different person who lived a happier life, enjoying one long marriage and many children in Kanawha, West Virginia.
[All newspaper clippings are from the Elmira gazette, unless otherwise noted.]