"The Woman in Black," National Police Gazette (1878)

Transcribed from page 12 of the May 11, 1878 issue of the National Police Gazette.

The Woman in Black

A Mysterious Female who Wanted to Argue a Point with Beecher

A matronly woman about thirty-five years old, with glossy curls falling over her shoulder, wrapped a light mantle about her in the Plymouth lecture room a few nights since and took a seat in the front row, right under Henry Ward Beecher's shadow. She was neatly dressed in black alpaca, with lace ruffles at her throat and at her wrists, and her hands were clothed with a fresh pair of black kids. She was a stranger, and her bold advance into a section of the room reserved by custom for those who bask in Mr. Beecher's radiance attracted attention. Mr. Beecher strode leisurely in as though feeling a touch of spring fever, looked nervously at a quadrilateral made of gas pipes, erected for private exhibition, and turned for comfort to the basket of flowers that a lady had sent for his table. When Dr. Edward Beecher prayed he referred to the fact that the church was surrounded by malign enemies and yet had as companions a legion of angels of light. The woman in black arose, tiptoed so close to him that her drapery almost brushed him, and passed down the aisle to the rear door. When Mr. Beecher began to talk, she tiptoed her way back, took her seat leisurely, folded her arms, and fixed her black eyes intently on Mr. Beecher.

The talk was about the requisites of a Christian life, his argument being that it was only necessary to dedicate oneself to Christ as Master. He said: "Will you make your whole life amenable to the commands of Christ? That is the simple question."

The woman in black leaned forward, her black eyes glistening with excitement, and said in a shrill voice, "Will you let a woman answer it?"

"When I get through, if it is proper, you may," said Mr. Beecher.

"Oh, excuse me. I thought you would hear me now," continued the woman.

Mr. Beecher was embarrassed, but he did not lose possession of his idea for a minute, and rattled on, amplifying the argument and picturing it with a quaint illustration. The woman in black eyed him, with a derisive smile on her face, and she seemed to be intently anxious to get an opportunity to give her views. Mr. Beecher said that a man became a Christian as soon as he accepted the Master hand of the Lord Jesus Christ, and promised that he would hereafter conform his life to Christ's life and his spirit to Christ's spirit. The woman in black laughed, showing her pearly teeth, and turned for sympathy to her neighbors, but they stared at her in surprise.

As soon as Mr. Beecher ceased to talk, the lady threw her mantle back, and prepared to respond to Mr. Beecher's expected invitation to speak. The invitation didn't come. Mr. Beecher gave out "Nearer my God to thee," and the black-robed woman waved her head, keeping time with the pianist's prelude, but kept her eyes riveted on Mr. Beecher, whose gaze was lost in the Plymouth collection. The sardonic smile on the face of the woman in black suddenly changed to an angry pout as the benediction was pronounced. She didn't bow her bead as Mr. Beecher implored "Grace, mercy, and peace," and glared at him defiantly. As he closed she pounced over to the reporters and said excitedly: "I will answer him yet. He has his platform; I will have mine. He refused to hear me tonight, but he must hear me some time. He has crucified me here."

She sat down with as much energy as she had got up, pulled on her over-shoes, and hastened out, muttering angrily all the way.

The Examining Committee remained to receive applications for membership in Plymouth Church. Mr. S. V. White said that the committee had not yet received any charges against Mrs. Tilton, and he did not know that any were to be prefereed. Three persons out of every four believed that Mrs. Tilton was crazy, and it was a forgone conclusion that she must leave the church. Some way would be adopted to get her out of the church with as little excitement as possible, but it was undisputed that she must go.