Advertisement

How a wealthy contractor, his ‘beautiful’ hat-trimming mistress sparked NY’s first criminal adultery case — in 1907

A “rich” railroad contractor, his “beautiful” hat-trimming mistress and his Southern belle wife sparked New York’s first-ever criminal adultery case — back in 1907.

The little-known law used to charge businessman Patrick Henry Hirsch and his younger paramour more than a century ago could soon be repealed thanks to a bill recently introduced by a Long Island lawmaker.

On Sept. 1, 1907 — a mere 10 days after Section 255.17 of the state penal code was enacted — detectives stormed into an Upper West Side residence with a warrant to arrest Hirsch and Ruby Yeargain, described as “a beautiful woman” in news reports at the time.

Hirsch – a 40-year-old, “dark and clean-shaven” railroad contractor with a wife and son – was “nonplussed” when the detectives handed him the warrant, The New York Times reported at the time.

He was joined inside the “luxuriously furnished” bolthole at the Warwick Arms on West 80th Street by “a young woman in negligee attire” — identified as Yeargain, a 26-year-old brunette — and her mother, Bessie, who lived there.

When asked for her name Yeargain retorted that “it doesn’t make any difference who I am;  he belongs to me,” the Times reported.

One of the detectives advised Ruby to “don [her] street attire” before she and her beau were slapped with adultery charges — and held on $500 bail each.

Democratic Assemblyman Charles Lavine is now taking aim at the law that landed the illicit couple behind bars, telling The Post on Wednesday that it was mostly used to unfairly target women.

“Because most of those charged are women, it stigmatizes and victimizes women,” he said.

The landmark 1907 case against the cheating pair – who apparently met in 1904 in Chicago, where Yeargain was working as a hat-trimmer at a department store – was the result of a yearslong effort on the part of Hirsch’s wife, Elizabeth Evans.

The Hirsch case made national news. Leavenworth Post
The Hirsch case made national news. Leavenworth Post

Born to a wealthy family in Milledgeville, Ga., Evans first met her philandering husband 10 years earlier, when she was 18 years old and taking vocal lessons in New York, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reported at the time.

Evans and Hirsch eloped in Manhattan in December 1897 against the wishes of her moneyed father, who even requested a meeting with then-Mayor William Strong in order to prevent the union.

Despite their scandalous start, the wealthy couple seemed to have a relatively happy life, and even had a son, Patrick Hirsch Jr., around 1900, according to reports.

Hirsch’s run-in with Yeargain, however, permanently derailed the marriage, Evans later told detectives.

At one point, the beleaguered wife claimed, Hirsch even absconded to Europe with Yeargain and took their young son with them, forcing her to reclaim the child through private detectives, a write-up published in The Washington Post said.

By the time Hirsch and Yeargain were arrested, Evans was suing for divorce on the grounds that Hirsch had taken up permanent residence with his galpal and her mom.

Yeargain – described in the Journal Constitution as a “remarkably attractive brunette” – became “faint” upon hearing the charges against her and reportedly remained ill throughout the proceedings.

Her mom told detectives that Hirsch “loved Ruby better than his own wife and, because of that… it was all right for Ruby to live with him, since their souls were one.”

But his scorned wife wasn’t buying it.

Evans greeted reporters the day after her husband’s very-public arrest and vowed to push the case forward, the New York Times reported then.

While waiting on the judge’s ruling, she returned to her family’s home in Georgia, where her son was under the guard of private detectives, the Washington Post said.

Due to a robbery and apparent threats from her husband’s legal team, Evans was even given a pistol from the local judge in order to protect herself and her son from potential kidnappers, the paper said.

The “fearless” woman would “not hesitate” to use the weapon, her friends said at the time.

Unfortunately for Evans, a judge ruled on Oct. 14 that the evidence that Hirsch and Yeargain had formally shacked up was insufficient, and the criminal complaint against them was dismissed, the Journal Constitution reported.

The couple’s divorce, however, was apparently granted.

Not much is known about what became of Hirsch, Yeargain or Evans after the scandal, though online records indicate that Hirsch and Yeargain may have married in Chicago in 1911.

It is unclear if Hirsch reunited with his estranged son – or if Evans ever fired her pistol as promised.