Archive for the ‘Delaware’ Category

The age of consent and rape reform in Delaware

July 7th, 2014 No comments
tatnall street

Children playing next to a reputed house of prostitution on Tatnall Street, Wilmington, Delaware, 1910.

In February 1889 a group of women activists presented a petition to the Delaware General Assembly with 10 yards of signatures of Delaware residents. This petition, presented by the Delaware Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, called for the state legislature to raise the age of consent. At that time under Delaware law the age of consent was a shockingly low seven. (W.C.T.U. Petition, Every Evening, February 12, 1889).

Sometimes misunderstood to refer to marriage, the age of consent in question actually had to do with the law of rape, similar to today’s statutory rape laws. Under English common law, which was adopted by Delaware and the other states, rape was defined as ”the carnal knowledge of a woman forcibly and against her will.” 2 William Blackstone, Commentaries *210.

In order to convict a man of rape, both force and lack of consent had to be proved, except in the case of a girl under the age of consent who was considered to not know right from wrong and was therefore incapable of consenting. The traditional common law age of consent was 10 or 12. In Delaware the age of consent was 10 until 1871 when it was lowered to seven. 14 Del. Laws 105 (1871) The same law instituted the death penalty for sex with a girl below the age of consent, before that the penalty had been up to 10 years in prison. It was probably the increase in the penalty which caused the age to be lowered, although reticence at the time to even discuss rape, means there is little mention of the change in law in the newspapers of 1871 and no legislative history.

blacklist of states arena

In 1895 Delaware still topped The Arena’s list of states with a low age of consent.

In the 1880s a nationwide campaign began to raise the age of consent. This campaign was led by the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union. Nowadays often dismissed as a group of humorless do-gooders who didn’t want anybody to drink, in the 19th century the WCTU was the largest and most powerful women’s group in the country. Besides their interest in the prohibition of alcohol, they also campaigned against social problems such as prostitution and violence against women, as well as promoting the rights of women to own property and vote. At the 1886 annual meeting of the Delaware WCTU, Delaware Union president Annie H. Martindale told fellow members that “the laws of our own State have drawn upon us the condemnation of shocked and surprised women throughout the country, the age of legal consent being only seven years, the lowest probably of any state in the Union. We must join our sisters in this holy work.”

By 1889 the Delaware WCTU had spurred the Delaware General Assembly to act to reform the age of consent law. The WCTU’s petition asked for the age of consent to be raised to 18. As in most states, the men of the Delaware General Assembly were not willing to go that far. They compromised by not technically raising the age of consent, but by passing a law defining a new crime, making it a misdemeanor to use or procure a female under the age of 15 for the purpose of sexual intercourse or to employ a female under 15 in a house of prostitution. 18 Del. Laws 686 (1889) That age was eventually raised to 18.

Technically, the age of consent in the Delaware rape law remained seven until 1972, when the state completely overhauled its criminal code, replacing the old common law definition of crimes with a modern criminal code. The laws relating to rape and sexual assault have continued to be reformed. As recent controversies over sexual assault on campus have shown the question of consent as a defense to the charge of rape is still a matter for activism and reform today.

Photo sources:

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
14 The Arena 418 (1895)


Delaware Criminal Code with Commentary. (State of Delaware, 1973)

Leslie K. Dunlap. The Reform of Rape Law and the Problem of White Men: Age-of-Consent Campaigns in the South, 1885-1910, in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History (Martha Hodes ed. 1999)

Jane Larson, ‘Even A Worm Will Turn at Last’: Rape Reform in Late Nineteenth-Century America, 9 Yale J. L. & Human. 1 (1997)

Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920 (1995)

Aaron M. Powell, et al. The Shame of America—The Age Of Consent Laws in the United States: A Symposium, 11 The Arena 192 (1895)

Trial by combat in Delaware

May 13th, 2014 No comments

This week’s Game of Thrones episode has put the medieval practice of trial by combat in the spotlight. Gawker and Above the Law both have interesting articles on the practice. Although this Time article claims trial by combat has never happened in the United States, it was requested once in Delaware. In McNatt v. Richards, a 1983 case in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, defendant Freedom Church of Revelation, challenged the plaintiff to trial by combat to the death. Vice Chancellor Maurice A. Hartnett, III was not amused and admonished the defendant that “… challenge of trial by combat to death is not a form of relief this Court, or any court in this country, would or could authorize. Dueling is a crime and defendant is therefore cautioned against such further requests for unlawful relief.”

In case you’re wondering why a pro se defendant would file a “rambling tirade which asserts various preposterous allegations and claims” challenging someone to trial by combat, the answer is of course, tax scam.

Library exam hours start Friday

April 24th, 2014 No comments

Final exams are almost here. Starting on Friday, April 25th, the Delaware campus law library will be open until 2:00 AM.

Our hours for the end of the semester are as follows:

  • Friday, April 25 through Wednesday, May 14           8:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m.
  • Thursday, May 15                                                                   8:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
  • Friday, May 16                                                                          8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.



Researching Delaware criminal sentencing

April 3rd, 2014 No comments

Here’s a quick list of sources for researching Delaware criminal sentences.

Title 11, chapter 5 of the Delaware Code defines crimes in Delaware and gives the classification of each crime.

Title 11 chapter 42 of the Delaware Code contains the possible sentences for each category of offense.

Delaware Sentencing Guidelines are in the Delaware Sentencing Accountability Commission Benchbook. The Benchbook is updated every year and the current Benchbook can always be found on the Commission’s webpage.

The old razzle dazzle and other licensed amusements

March 31st, 2014 No comments
1915 statutes licenses

Page from the 1915 Delaware Code listing occupations requiring a license.

While doing some research on a more serious topic, I happened to notice an index entry in the 1915 Delaware Code: “Razzle-dazzle keepers, license of.” What exactly was a razzle-dazzle keeper and why did it require a license?

The 1915 Delaware Code includes a list of occupations requiring a license, including some you might still see licensed today, like doctors, lawyers, dentists, and real estate agents, but also some more unusual occupations like “keeping … stallions … for the use of mares” and “practicing jugglery.”

Razzle dazzle at Coney Island

The razzle dazzle at Coney Island in 1896.

It also includes a list of amusements that require a license to operate, which is where the razzle-dazzle comes in. The razzle-dazzle was an early amusement park ride.  There is apparently only one operating razzle-dazzle still left, at a steam museum in England. The old Delaware law gives a snapshot of early 20th century amusement rides, including bicycle and tricycle railways, haunted swings, revolving swings, merry-go-rounds, toboggan slides, switch backs, shoot-the-shoots, ferris wheels, and scenic railways.

Photo credit: Library of Congress

Widener- Delaware Campus Law Library Closing at 9pm

January 21st, 2014 No comments

Due to inclement weather the Widener- Delaware Campus Law Library will be Closing at 9pm this evening, Tuesday, January, 21st. We apologize for an inconvenience.

Categories: Delaware Tags:

Library hours for Martin Luther King Day

January 14th, 2014 No comments

The Delaware campus law library will be on shorter hours for Martin Luther King Day, Monday, January 20th.

On Sunday, January 19th we will be open from  10 AM to 10 PM and Monday, January 20th from 9 AM to 9 PM.

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‘Pernicious and destructive’ or ‘tax on the willing’: lottery laws in Delaware and the United States

October 28th, 2013 No comments
louisiana state lottery tickets

1889 Louisiana State Lottery tickets

In the first decade of the 20th century, John M. Rogers was one of Wilmington, Delaware’s most prominent and respected residents. He lived in one of the large houses on Delaware Avenue with his wife and children. He served on the Wilmington Parks Commission, the Wilmington Board of Trade,  and was president of the local photography club. He owned a machine tool company in Gloucester City, New Jersey and a hotel in Atlantic City. His main business, however was a printing plant, the John M. Rogers Press, at 6th & Orange streets in Wilmington. On May 1, 1906 Rogers’s comfortable life in Wilmington came to an end when the United States Secret Service raided his print shop. Rogers’s plant was printing more than reports for the city government and advertising brochures. He was also printing tickets for the nation’s largest illegal lottery.

John M. Rogers

John M. Rogers and Superior Court Judge Henry C. Conrad in front of the Equitable Guarantee and Trust Company building, Wilmington, Delaware. Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

In colonial times and in the early period of US history lotteries were often considered a respectable and harmless means of raising money for both private and public projects. Thomas Jefferson called the lottery a “… tax laid on the willing only.” In Delaware, the colonial legislature banned lotteries in 1772, as “pernicious  and destructive to frugality, industry, trade and commerce, … introductive of idleness and immorality, and against the common good and welfare  of a people.” But by the 1790s the state legislature was authorizing lotteries to build a courthouse in Dover and piers in the harbor at New Castle.

During the 19th century, as lotteries became larger and more commercialized, they began to be looked at more as a form of gambling and a social problem. Reformers argued that they encouraged immorality and preyed on the poor, who could least afford them. State after state passed laws outlawing lotteries until by the 1860s, only a few states, including Delaware, still allowed them. In 1887 Delaware joined the majority of states and banned lotteries again.

drawing louisiana state lottery

Drawing winning numbers for the Louisiana State Lottery

By the end of the 19th century the largest lottery in the United States was the Louisiana State Lottery. Founded by a New York gambling syndicate in 1868 in a Louisiana desperate for cash after the Civil War, the Louisiana Lottery sold tickets in every state in the US as well as foreign countries. Estimates of the Lottery’s earnings varied but newspapers estimated the annual gross receipts of the Louisiana Lottery to be $4,000,000. Other sources put the amount as high as $30,000,000 per year. The Lottery itself kept quiet about its earnings. Although lotteries were illegal in most states it was difficult for state governments to keep the Louisiana Lottery out. Eventually, the federal government passed a law (Act of Sept. 19, 1890, ch. 908, § 2, 26 Stat. 465) making it illegal to send lottery tickets and other items through the mail. Its operations now illegal, the Louisiana Lottery went underground, changing its name to the Honduras National Lottery. Although nominally headquartered in Honduras, the Lottery still did most of its business in the United States, including printing its tickets in John M. Rogers’s printing plant.

Along with raiding Rogers’s Wilmington printing plant, the Secret Service made arrests across the country. In 1907, 32 men pled guilty and paid fines totaling $284,000 and the Lottery was shut down for good. John Rogers paid $10,000 in fines and his printing plant was auctioned. He left Wilmington for New Jersey where he continued running his machine tool plant in Gloucester City until his death in 1910. His home at 1301 Delaware Avenue was purchased by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington for use as the Bishop’s residence.

Lotteries remained illegal in the United States until the 1960s when states looking for new sources of revenue started to authorize lotteries again. Delaware reauthorized its state lottery in 1974 and today the lottery is bigger than ever. In 2012 the Delaware Lottery contributed $269 million to the State’s General Fund.


John M. Rogers and Henry C. Conrad, Courtesy of the Delaware Historical Society.

Louisiana State Lottery tickets, Wikimedia Commons

Louisiana State Lottery drawing.

For more information see:

G. Robert Blakey & Harold A. Kurland. Development of the Federal Law of Gambling. 63 Cornell L. Rev. 923 (1977-78)

A.R. Spofford. Lotteries in American History.

Categories: Delaware Tags: ,

New book by Widener’s Andrew Strauss

September 9th, 2013 No comments

andrew strauss bookA new book edited by Widener’s Andrew Strauss is now available in the law library. Climate Change Geoengineering: Philosophical Perspectives, Legal Issues, and Governance Frameworks, co-edited with Wil C.G. Burns, was recently published by Cambridge University Press.

Categories: Delaware, new books Tags: ,

New book by Widener’s Erin Daly

September 6th, 2013 No comments

erin daly bookA new book by Widener’s Erin Daly is now available in the law library. Dignity Rights: Courts, Constitutions, and the Worth of the Human Person was recently published by University of Pennsylvania Press.

Categories: Delaware, new books Tags: ,

Welcome back to the law library

August 19th, 2013 No comments

Widener Law LibraryIt’s another new school year! We’re happy to see our new and returning students back in the law library. Please stop by for studying or research. Why not check out some of our study aids? We have plenty of computers, carrels, tables and comfortable chairs for studying. Our reference librarians are waiting to help you, so please ask us any questions you may have.

Categories: Delaware, LIC Delaware Campus News Tags:

The fabulous Springer fortune of Wilmington Delaware

May 28th, 2013 No comments
springer heirs association share

A share certificate issued by the Springer Heirs National Associated Company in 1908

In 1883, two men, George W. Ponton and Charles H. Bierce were arraigned in New York on charges of larceny. They had persuaded a third man, Charles W. Van Dorn, to loan them $200, which would be repaid when Bierce came into a fortune of $90,000. Bierce claimed to be one of the Springer heirs, descendants of Charles Christopher Springer, an early settler of Wilmington, Delaware. Springer, it was said, had owned a large portion of the land where the city of Wilmington now stands, which he had leased to Old Swedes Church, which in turn leased it to the city of Wilmington for 99 years. The lease was now up and soon the city would settle with the heirs for 20 million dollars. There was, of course, no fortune and Van Dorn never got his $200 back. But the story of the fabulous Springer fortune waiting in Wilmington lived on for almost another hundred years, as fortune hunters, confidence tricksters and honestly hopeful people named Springer organized associations, collected money, and badgered Wilmington officials in a futile effort to claim the untold millions waiting for them.


Holy Trinity or Old Swedes Church in Wilmington, Delaware

The quest for the mythical Springer fortune seems to have begun in the 1870s when J.N.W Springer and David Gillespie formed the Springer Heirs Association, to raise money to investigate the claim to the estate.  It was probably inspired by earlier very similar claims in the 1830s and 1840s involving property in Manhattan owned by Trinity Church (Bogardus v. Trinity Church, 4 Paige Ch. 178 (1835) and Humbert v. Trinity Church, 24 Wend. 587 (1840)) and the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church, one of which actually went to the U.S. Supreme Court (Harpending v. Reformed Protestant Dutch Church of City of New York, 41 U.S. 455, 10 L. Ed. 1029 (1842)) The fact that the heirs lost in all of these cases doesn’t seem to have deterred the Springers.

All through the 19th and into the 20th century the search for the fortune continued, with the size of the prize growing every year. Springer’s supposed property grew from encompassing a part of Wilmington to the entire city, and to include the site of the DuPont gunpowder mills for good measure. Charles Springer was said to have been a Swedish baron who had a fortune hidden away in a Swedish bank, or walled up in a hidden building, or possibly buried in a tomb. Con artists offered to sell Springer’s will for large amounts of money, lawyers spent years in Europe doing research at the heirs’ expense, and the presidents of various Springer heirs associations collected money which was mostly spent on hotels while traveling the country and collecting more money. So many people contacted Wilmington officials asking about the fortune, that the city was forced to print pamphlets denying the story.

Newspapers across the US added to the confusion by printing inspiring stories about the ordinary people who were possible heirs, including two manicurist sisters in San Francisco, a kidnapped child in California and a railroad yardmaster from Reno. Only the Wilmington papers expressed any skepticism about the story, generally portraying the heirs as hopeless suckers and pests.

Interest in the Springer estate seems to have died down now, except for a few mentions on genealogy websites, but similar hoaxes continue. In 2001, the 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals decided a case in which the Pennsylvania Association of Edwards Heirs (who claim their ancestor was the rightful owner of a large portion of lower Manhattan) sued Wachovia Bank after nearly 1.5 million dollars in association dues had been squandered by the officers of the association. Pennsylvania Ass’n of Edwards Heirs v. Rightenour, 235 F.3d 839 (3d Cir. 2000). The heirs lost.

Categories: Delaware Tags:

The Dover poisoned candy murders

April 11th, 2013 No comments
Elizabeth Dunning

Murder victim Elizabeth Dunning, from an illustration in the San Francisco Call

One evening in August 1898 in Dover, Delaware, the family of ex-congressman John B. Penington sat together on the porch of their house on the Dover Green. Mr. and Mrs. Penington, their son, two adult daughters and their grandchildren were relaxing after dinner. Two neighbors stopped by to say hello. One of the daughters, Elizabeth Dunning, had received a box of chocolates in the mail earlier that day, and she passed the candy around for her family and friends to enjoy. Later that night, everyone who had eaten the candy got sick. Elizabeth Dunning and her sister, Ida Deane, had eaten more candy than the others. Within a few days, both women were dead. Food poisoning was originally suspected, but tests on the candy proved it had been laced with arsenic.

The candy had been sent with no return address but a San Francisco postmark. Included in the box was a handkerchief and a note that read “With love to yourself and baby, love, Mrs. C.” When informed of his wife Elizabeth’s death, her husband John P. Dunning, immediately suspected his mistress, Cordelia Botkin.

John P. Dunning

Photo from “The Staff Correspondent”

Born in Delaware, John P. Dunning studied to be an attorney, but the staid life of a provincial Dover lawyer wasn’t for him. He became a foreign correspondent for the Associated Press, traveling the world to cover stories of war and natural disaster. In 1889 he was sent to Samoa to cover the growing tension there between Germany and the United States. Dunning arrived in time to witness the destruction of the fleets sent by the two countries in a terrible cyclone. His story was sent by the AP to newspapers around the world, including the New York Times.  His coverage of the cyclone and courage in rescuing victims of the disaster made him a well-known reporter.

Dunning and his wife Elizabeth had a daughter and moved to San Francisco, where Dunning worked for the Associated Press. At some point, Elizabeth and John separated, Elizabeth and her daughter moving back to Dover to live with her parents. Dunning stayed in San Francisco, where he began an affair with Cordelia Botkin. Botkin was also married and separated from her husband.

cordelia botkin

Cordelia Botkin, illustration from the San Francisco Call

At the outbreak of the Spanish American War in 1898, Dunning was sent by the Associated Press to Cuba to cover the war, where he covered the exploits of Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders. Before he left, he told Cordelia that after the war he’d be going home to his wife in Delaware. Not long afterward, his wife and her sister were dead.

Cordelia Botkin was soon arrested and charged with the murder of Elizabeth Dunning. Her trial was a huge sensation, with front page coverage in newspapers all over the country. The case had everything needed for a sensational story: adultery, prominent people, the clash between small town values and big city sophistication, and a murder committed by the latest technology, poison by mail.

Cordelia Botkin steadfastly maintained her innocence and hired some of the finest lawyers in San Francisco, but she was found guilty of murder in December 1898. In 1901 her conviction was overturned (People v. Botkin, 132 Cal. 231, 64 P. 286 (1901)) because of improper jury instructions. She was tried and convicted again in 1904 and sentenced to life in prison. She appealed again but this time her conviction was upheld People v. Botkin, 9 Cal. App. 244, 98 P. 861 (1908). She died in San Quentin prison in 1910. John Dunning preceded her in death, dying in Philadelphia in 1907 at the age of 44.


John R. Alstadt, Jr. With Love to Yourself and Baby. Dorrance, 2001.

Charles Sanford Diehl. The Staff Correspondent. Clegg Co., 1931.

Thomas S. Duke. Celebrated Criminal Cases of America. J.H. Barry, 1910.

The San Francisco Call‘s extensive coverage of the trial is available at the California Digital Newspaper Collection.


National Poetry Month

April 4th, 2013 No comments

April is National Poetry Month. The law and poetry have more in common than you might think, maybe because lawyers have to be good writers. A few Widener faculty have published articles about poetry and the law. Mary Kate Kearney of the Harrisburg campus has written The Propriety of Poetry in Judicial Opinions, about the use of poetry by judges in their opinions. Another Harrisburg faculty member, Randy Lee, has written an article about Bruce Springsteen, Bruce Springsteen’s Hope and the Lawyer as Poet Advocate.

On the Delaware campus, Alan Garfield once published a humorous poem about Sherwood v. Walker, the famous contract case about a cow. For some reason, Sherwood v. Walker seems to spark the muse in many lawyers because there are a lot of poems inspired by that case. And even a song:

Categories: Delaware, Miscellaneous Tags: ,

Spring break library hours

February 28th, 2013 No comments

It’s hard to believe that next week is spring break. It still seems like winter to me! The law library will be open during spring break but our hours will be shortened.

  • Friday, March 1:           8 AM to 9 PM
  • Saturday, March 2:     8 AM to 5 PM
  • Sunday, March 3:        12 PM to 5 PM
  • Monday to Thursday, March 4 – 7:      8 AM to 9 PM
  • Friday, March 8:           8 AM to 6 PM
  • Saturday, March 9:       9 AM to 5 PM
  • Sunday, March 10:        12 PM to 10 PM

Normal hours will resume on Monday, March 11. For complete library hours see our website.