Here's Howe and Here's Hummel
May 1, 2010 11:11 AM   Subscribe

New York city in the 19th century was famous for it's corruption, criminals and "Gangs of New York." All of them knew exactly who to call when they were in trouble, the law firm of Howe and Hummel.

Howe and Hummel was started by William F. Howe, specialist in criminal defense and courtroom histrionics, famous for his flamboyant dress and ability to cry at the drop of a hat. His partner, Abraham Hummel, specialized in civil proceedings, including divorce and the lucrative practice of threatening wealthy men with breach of promise suits after their affairs with chorus girls. Hummel also represented many in the New York theatrical community, including P.T Barnum, Little Egypt, and Lillian Russell.

Because of their connections with the entertainment world, Howe and Hummel also represented clients in many censorship cases. They represented Olga Nethersole when she was arrested for "violating public decency" onstage in 1900. In 1873 Howe and Hummel represented sisters, spiritualists, stockbrokers and feminists, Victoria Woodhull and Tennie C. Claflin, who were arrested for printing the indecent word "virginity" in an article accusing a prominent minister of adultery in their paper "Woodhull & Claflin's Weekly."

When crusading politicians and district attorneys pledged to clean up New York in the early 20th century, Howe and Hummel had to go as well. Howe died unscathed by reform in 1902, but in 1907, Hummel was sentenced to a year in prison and disbarred for suborning perjury in a divorce case. After his release Hummel left the United States and spent the rest of his life traveling the world and spending his money, ill-gotten or otherwise.

A brief and entertaining book "Howe and Hummel, Their True and Scandalous History" by Richard H. Rovere is unfortunately, now out of print, and not old enough to be available in the public domain.
posted by interplanetjanet (9 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Howe later broke up the partnership to merge with Dewey and Cheetham.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 11:31 AM on May 1, 2010 [9 favorites]

Thanks for posting this. I just re-read Luc Sante's Low Life a few months ago, which mentions them.
posted by gingerbeer at 11:43 AM on May 1, 2010

Howe later broke up the partnership to merge with Dewey and Cheetham.

So which one are you, Click or Clack?
posted by shii at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I didn't know Google News had full layouts of archives like that. Way cool!
posted by klangklangston at 11:53 AM on May 1, 2010

I'm actually related to Max Steuer, another well-known early 20th Century New York attorney, so I've always found stories like these fascinating.

And now I know what I'll be doing for the next couple hours.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:28 PM on May 1, 2010

Out of print but not hard to find at all. Well worth the reading.
posted by IndigoJones at 4:51 PM on May 1, 2010

Yes, it was the Rovere book that got me interested. It's a great book but short on pictures and footnotes so I started googling for more info.
posted by interplanetjanet at 5:31 PM on May 1, 2010

I loved Low Life, gingerbeer. A well researched and good read.
posted by mosk at 7:39 PM on May 1, 2010

And nicely done, if I may say so. Haven't read the book in years, so this is welcome.
posted by IndigoJones at 6:00 AM on May 2, 2010

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