Enshrined as the capitol of American vice and crime during the 19th century, New York city was home to a gallery of famous rogues, gangs, murderers, pickpockets, rioters, and thieves. During the Civil War years, the 20th Precinct did more than its share in living up to this seamy reputation. Taking in a swath of the Lower West Side, running roughly between 8th and 10th Avenues and 30th and 40th Streets, the precinct was dominated by rows of tenements housing a population comprised largely of Irish and German immigrants. Best known, perhaps, as home to the infamous Hell's Kitchen, the precinct was afflicted with poverty, vagrancy, drunkenness, violence, and crime. During the Civil War, it was also a haven for large numbers of deserters, and although it was spared some of the worst excesses of the Draft Riots of 1863, the residents of the precinct erected barricades against the police up and down 9th Avenue.
Given the makeup of the population in the precinct, it is not surprising that an overwhelming proportion of the persons arrested were immigrants, mostly Irish and German, and nearly all were Caucasian. Women comprised a substantial percentage of persons arrested for civil infractions. As with men, the most common charges against women were alcohol-related -- including intoxication and drunk and disorderly conduct -- but more aggressive behavior characterized many arrests. Disorderly conduct and fighting (with husbands and neighbors) were frequent: typical of many such incidents, Officer Houghton responded to an incident on 9th Avenue between 38th and 39th Streets in February 1864, and confiscated a sword from a woman "who was chasing the neighbours about the house threatening to kill them." A more common refrain, however, was violence against women, whether beaten by drunken husbands, caught in a fight, or victimized by neighbors, such as Jane Reilly, savagely attacked by a bull dog.