Fredericka Mandelbaum (1825-1894)

Fredericka Mandelbaum was born on March 25, 1825, in the central German city of Kassel. She settled in New York City in 1850 during the large, midcentury wave of German and Irish immigration to the United States. Mandelbaum arrived poor and, starting as a peddler, built a successful business as a criminal entrepreneur, the most noted “fence,” or receiver of stolen property, of her time, achieving success and fame from the 1860s through the early 1880s.

Updated: October 15, 2013


Fredericka Mandelbaum (born March 28, 1825 in Kassel, Electorate of Hesse-Kassel; died February 26, 1894 in Hamilton, Ontario, Dominion of Canada) was born on March 25, 1825, in the central German city of Kassel. She settled in New York City in 1850 during the large, midcentury wave of German and Irish immigration to the United States. Mandelbaum arrived poor and, starting as a peddler, built a successful business as a criminal entrepreneur, the most noted “fence,” or receiver of stolen property, of her time, achieving success and fame from the 1860s through the early 1880s. She worked with the most gifted shoplifters, bank robbers, and thieves of the Gilded Age and made at least one million dollars over the span of her career. Known particularly for receiving silks and sealskins, highly popular goods in this period, she also planned different types of robberies and held and sold the plunder from these thefts. It is difficult to assess accurately the exact value of her estate, since much of her wealth may have been hidden given the nature of her business, and there was no probate of a will after her death. During her lifetime, she owned several properties, including the buildings in which she resided and did business on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, others in and around the New York area, including upstate New York and New Jersey, and property in Hamilton, Ontario, during the final years of her life. Renowned during her life for her illicit entrepreneurial activities, she remained a figure of interest well into the twentieth century.

Family and Ethnic Background

Fredericka Mandelbaum (born Friederike Weisner) was the daughter of Samuel Abraham Weisner and Regine (Rahel Lea) (née Solling) Weisner.[1] Mandelbaum had two older brothers, Simon and Abraham, and four younger siblings, Levi, Moses, Klӓrchen (who died in infancy), and Bernhard.[2] Kassel, where Fredericka was born, was the capital of the small, independent German state of Hesse-Kassel. She would have been one of 14,000 to 15,000 Jews in the state, who made up 2.6 percent of the population of approximately 574,000 total inhabitants. Jews were a minority, and not an entirely welcome one for some inhabitants.[3] The Weisner family had a relatively long history in the region. Fredericka’s great-grandparents had moved to the tiny village of Abterode, some twenty miles from Kassel in the eighteenth century. [4] Jews were considered outsiders in Abterode and were often attacked physically, though some paid protection money to avoid assaults. The community’s religious intolerance may have been one of the reasons that the family moved away and may explain why her father and his brothers, Abraham and Moses, were born in Schwerin, Duchy of Mecklenburg, and Grebenstein, Electorate of Hesse-Kassel, respectively.[5] 

Economic factors could also explain the family’s frequent moves. Mandelbaum’s grandfather was a merchant, likely an itinerant peddler. During this period, many Jews in the German lands engaged in peddling and petty trade, as their economic choices were severely restricted by laws that determined the kinds of products they could sell and the types of business in which they could engage. Christian businessmen sought to prevent competition from Jewish merchants and craftsmen by influencing the passage of such laws and excluding Jews from joining craft guilds, which wielded significant, though far from total, control over craft production and retail in local markets.[6]  While some Jews peddled, others ran small shops and acted as middlemen in commercial markets for commodities such as grain, cattle, horses, grapes for winemaking, and flax for cloth manufacturing.

As a young Jewish girl, Fredericka would have been expected to help with gender-defined household duties, such as taking care of younger siblings, but would have had at least a basic education, learning reading, writing, and arithmetic. She might have attended an elementary school, since in the 1820s Jewish elementary schools for both girls and boys opened in some areas of the German lands.[7] A cursory education combined with the Jewish cultural norm of women, especially mothers, playing a key role in the survival of the household, may have influenced Mandelbaum’s later endeavors. Whatever the precise circumstances, she developed a keen intellect, a strong work ethic, and confidence in her own abilities. Mandelbaum also maintained strong ties to her traditional roots; she belonged to and supported a local synagogue in all the locations in which she lived.

The economic circumstances of the Weisner family likely had a great influence on Fredericka’s later choices in life. Assuming the Weisners were a typical Jewish family of the period, her father would have been a petty merchant, perhaps even itinerant, like his father. He would have engaged in buying and selling a variety of goods (possibly household goods, second-hand clothing, and other moderate-value items), much as Fredericka’s future husband (and she) would later do.

In her early twenties, Fredericka married Wolf Israel Mandelbaum, a peddler from Grebenstein, a community some fifteen-and-a-half miles (twenty-five kilometers) north of Kassel, on November 26, 1848.[8] In keeping with the familiar patterns of Jewish peddlers in Hesse, the couple likely lived among their fellow co-religionists, surrounded by family and friends, all Jews. Sometimes for days at a time, Wolf Mandelbaum, and prior to the birth of their first child, his wife too, may have peddled in the countryside, returning to the community at the end of each week in time to prepare for the Sabbath.[9] The Mandelbaums would have interacted with non-Jews for the most part only when conducting business. This probably occurred often in Fredericka Mandelbaum’s case, since throughout her life she was comfortable doing business and socializing with people from any background. Peddlers also got to know each other at home and on the road, and traded among themselves.[10] All of these circumstances, personal, social, and political, surely shaped Fredericka Mandelbaum’s identity and influenced her later career path.

Even with hard work, the Mandelbaums would, like their neighbors, have remained economically marginalized. Relative poverty certainly provided part of their impetus for leaving Hesse and going to America.[11] Certain discriminatory laws that restricted Jews from changing residences, capped the numbers of Jews who could live within particular states at any given time, and hindered their ability to marry, particularly targeting peddlers and shopkeepers, might have also affected the couple’s decision.[12] Once Fredericka Mandelbaum’s first child, Breine Betty Mandelbaum (also known as Bessy or Bertha) was born on March 28, 1849, in Kassel, her forays into the countryside probably ceased. The loss of her income could have provided the final push that led to the family’s emigration from the region in 1850.[13]  

Business Development

Fredericka Mandelbaum appears to have transferred her skills as a peddler from the old country to the new. She developed and grew a simple peddling business into a very lucrative enterprise between 1850, when she and her husband arrived in New York City, and 1884, when she left the city due to pending criminal charges. She purportedly had more than one million dollars in goods (approximately $24 million dollars in 2011 dollars), including silks, sealskins, bonds, and other merchandise of value, pass through her store.[14] At her death, ten years after legal difficulties had prompted her to flee to Canada, she appears to have been worth at least $500,000 (approximately $13,500,000 in 2011 dollars).[15] Indeed, her rise from a poor immigrant peddler to a store owner of significant wealth may not seem atypical in the American narrative but Fredericka Mandelbaum achieved her success as “…the nucleus and centre of the whole organization of crime in New York City….”[16] She was indeed an entrepreneur, but her business was of a criminal nature.

The Mandelbaums, like many German immigrants of the era, settled in Kleindeutschland, an ethnic enclave on the Lower East Side. There, the couple, along with many other Germans, labored, shopped, and enjoyed the entertainments of “Little Germany.” From their first tenement homes in the Eleventh and Seventeenth wards, the Mandelbaums bought from, sold to, and generally intermingled with their fellow Germans. As peddlers and neighbors, Jews and Christians, artisans and laborers, alike, they shared the sights, smells, and sounds of their neighborhood. From their Eleventh Ward tenement, in the 1850s, they heard the sounds of industry and smelled the products of the foundries along the East River and the numerous slaughterhouses in the area.[17] The expanding Seventeenth Ward to the west, in which they lived for a time, may have seemed like a haven after the clamor and crowding of their earlier homes. With wider avenues and new brick homes around Tompkins Square Park, this least industrial ward could have provided a brief moment of respite, but it too was growing at breakneck speed.[18] 

To the south of the Eleventh Ward, the Thirteenth Ward, in which the Mandelbaums' most permanent home was located, was highly industrial and full of all kinds of large and small businesses. Iron foundries, factories that made bricks, sewing machines, and varnish, lumber yards, a coal yard, wood yards, stone yards, and manure and lime yards stood near public schools, houses of worship, and residences.[19]  Small businesses, both inside and outside of residences, enveloped the senses as well. In Mandelbaum’s election district alone, artisans and laborers manufactured “segars,” chairs, sofas, tables, corks, and pocketbooks.[20] The same area also held twelve hotels, inns, and taverns in 1855, along with twenty-three retail stores and forty-three groceries.[21] 

The streets, often unpaved, muddy, and dirty, littered with garbage (and the occasional carcass of a horse that had died and rotted where it fell), provided space for pushcart markets. A semi-permanent one on Rivington Street added a bustling exchange of capital as customers haggled in “old-world” style with traders on these ever crowded streets. Some vendors worked in these larger markets and others outside of these main arenas of commerce; in either case, they sold every kind of cheap commodity throughout the narrow, dirty streets. Ragpickers, scissor and knife grinders, and more, provided the necessities of life for the local community. [22]

In these busy neighborhoods, Fredericka Mandelbaum built a business in which she procured products, both luxurious and mundane, through a variety of means and distributed them into a marketplace filled with people who desired silks, jewels, cashmere shawls, securities, and other less luxurious items at reduced prices. The rapid and unregulated growth of industrial capitalism, always prone to severe ups and downs, helped Fredericka Mandelbaum expand her business operations. In fact, her success, in part, depended on what happened during economic downturns. When businesses failed, banks closed, and tens of thousands of people lost their jobs, poor and working class people took to the streets.[23] Large numbers of women and children scavenged for items that would help them survive, such as wood and coal for heat and cooking, the contents of spilled containers like sugar and flour, remnants of cotton bales shipped from the South, scrap metal, rope, glass, and more. Those who found these goods sometimes used them for their own survival; others sold these things to manufacturers, junk dealers, and individuals such as Mandelbaum.[24] The New York streets teemed not only with poor inhabitants, from whom Mandelbaum could buy all kinds of items, but also with legitimate retail business owners — dry goods merchants, grocers, milliners, seamstresses, cabinet makers — who were looking to save money on materials for which legitimate wholesalers charged high prices. Mandelbaum became a “middleman” who purchased and sold the spoils of New York City’s street culture and did not seem to care about the origins of the merchandise as long as it generated a profit.[25]

In addition to buying from scavengers, Mandelbaum also made contact with the more notorious characters that lived off the growing wealth of New York City. Professional thieves, from shoplifters to pickpockets to burglars, worked the streets looking for goods and buyers. For example, of great importance to Mandelbaum were the women shoplifters who trolled the “better” shops, like Lord & Taylor, Arnold, Constable & Co., McCreery, Johnston & Denning, and A. T. Stewart, the first and most opulent department store in New York, for all kinds of items that could be turned into cash. As fledglings, these shoplifters in her cohort may have received on-the-job training from the “Queen of Fences” herself, who showed them where and how to obtain the best plunder for her purposes. She may also have used that opportunity to “introduce” them to the dry goods clerks with whom she had made arrangements to “assist” her shoplifters for a percentage of the profits. Cashmere shawls, sealskin bags, and even bolts of silk, departed from these well-stocked establishments in the large pockets sewn under the women shoplifters wide skirts, as did the contents of well-heeled patrons’ pocketbooks.[26] Police and politicians also filled the streets, from the cop on the beat to the ward bosses. Over time, Mandelbaum met and courted these fellow participants in the street economy.

Fredericka Mandelbaum used the bustling streets of the Lower East Side to establish, grow, and maintain her business, but she peddled and connected with important cogs in the wheel of criminal enterprise outside of the city as well. She traveled to Trenton and Newark to peddle wares, such as lace, door to door, establishing a clientele among the wealthy matrons of those growing industrial New Jersey cities.[27] Her real estate holdings reached beyond her home and shop, as well. She allegedly owned tenements in the city and warehouses outside of it in Passaic, New Jersey, as well as in Brooklyn.[28] She also held property in Albany, New York, from 1874 until 1880, which she acquired when a thief for whom she had provided bail did not show up for trial.[29] 

Mandelbaum built connections and rose in the criminal ranks pretty much on her own. Although her husband did some peddling — possibly they peddled together at first — he appears to have been a lesser player in the family criminal empire. To what extent Wolf Mandelbaum had been a part of any of the family business enterprises is hard to determine. He was a peddler in Hesse and he is listed as such in New York city directories and census records until the 1860s.[30] After that, city directories listed Wolf and his wife separately as dry goods or fancy goods store proprietors in adjoining properties at 163 Rivington and 79 Clinton Streets. Colleagues and acquaintances of Fredericka Mandelbaum, however, attested to the fact that Mr. Mandelbaum had little or no input in the true family business. Police Chief Walling referred to him as “a nonentity.”[31] Nell Kimball, a woman who later became a well-known madam and whose thief husband had some dealings with Fredericka Mandelbaum, called Wolf Mandelbaum “a silent husband” who seemed to shrug off what was going on around him.[32] In any case, he was never portrayed as a prime mover in Fredericka’s criminal enterprise, or the Mandelbaum household economy, in any way.

Around 1870, Wolf Mandelbaum became seriously ill with a “wasting away disease,” probably pulmonary tuberculosis, one of the leading causes of death during this period. He died in 1875 and was buried in the family plot, which contained fourteen gravesites purchased by his wife through the Lower East Side Synagogue Burial Society, at the Union Fields Cemetery of Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Queens, New York.[33]

It is perhaps indicative of Wolf Mandelbaum’s limited involvement in family business activities, both legitimate and illegitimate, that it was Fredericka who rented the shop and cellar at 163 Rivington Street that housed her “store” in 1864. The lease stipulated that she pay $375 (approximately $5,540 in 2011$) the first year and $400 (approximately $5,910 in 2011$) the second year, no small sum for supposed peddlers who had started with little to nothing.[34] The transfer of the deed for the entire corner property at 79 Clinton and 163 Rivington Streets to Fredericka Mandelbaum occurred in 1873, well past the original two-year lease.[35] By that time the Mandelbaums' declared estate was worth $5,000, (approximately $100,000 in 2011$).[36]  

Fredericka Mandelbaum conducted her real business in other parts of the corner property, which was really two or three buildings combined.[37] It was in this house that she raised her family, entertained guests and clients, and worked. It was also here that Mandelbaum removed marks from bolts of silks from some of the finest establishments on the East Coast and where her “staff” of German artisans melted down and reconfigured jewelry and other metal items in order to hide their original designs. Other items were stored in warehouses throughout the area until “the heat” generated from recent robberies “was off.”[38]

Her store offered a reasonable and believable front for Mandelbaum’s genuine business activities. It appeared to be a prosperous dry goods shop.[39] She had hired help, including a couple of saleswomen. One of these young women might have been Becky Lauber who appears in census records as a saleswoman. It is possible that other young women, namely Augusta Cristian and Magdalen Alsbach, might have worked in the store. Both of these German immigrants, who ranged in age from 17 to 22 in 1880, appear as part of the Mandelbaum household in the 1880 census. Her son, Julius, also in this age range, and Hermann Stoude, supposedly simply a clerk, both ostensibly tended the store. In reality, Stoude, a widower himself, served as Mandelbaum’s companion and “confidential man” and was charged with grand larceny, along with his boss and her son, in 1884.[40]

Starting in the 1860s, Fredericka Mandelbaum’s name began to surface in the press as a criminal figure, touted by 1873 as the most well-known and wealthiest of the receivers of stolen property in New York City.[41] During this period she was acknowledged publicly as the “go to” person for disposal of property by professional safe-crackers and burglars, as a top receiver of stolen property, and as a captain of crime.[42] As such, she probably welcomed the publicity (and maybe even saw to it that it was “planted”) that promoted her business services.

Mandelbaum’s personal charisma was one of the keys to her success. She appears to have been a charming woman who ingratiated herself with a diverse group of people: elite criminals, “legitimate” businesspeople, who stepped up to provide her bail when she was jailed, as well as members of the criminal justice system including the police, judges, and prosecutors.[43] 

Though there were thieves and fences everywhere, New York’s “peculiarity and disgrace” was that Mandelbaum carried on her business “as openly as if it were a legitimate industry” according to social reformers.[44] She cultivated friends in high places and became “…the most notorious receiver of stolen goods in the country….”[45]  By the 1880s, reformers had begun to condemn the police for being unwilling, and possibly unable, to capture her, even though many of them knew about her criminal activities that permeated not only the New York City area, but also other areas of the nation, and about her criminal business connections in Europe, Canada, and Mexico.[46] They also knew the locations of warehouses inside and outside of New York City where she stored stolen goods.[47]

Mandelbaum escaped serious legal trouble for many years, dodging arrest in the 1860s, and experiencing a close call in 1875 when police seized a hefty amount of merchandise from her premises, mostly silks and shawls. Even though the same amount of merchandise had gone missing from a local merchant’s inventory, none of it could be identified, as all identifying marks had been removed. For unknown reasons, the merchant either would not or could not attempt to identify the goods.[48] Not incidentally, by this time, Mandelbaum’s influence and clout afforded her enough power to buy her way out of most situations. William Howe and Abraham Hummel, her infamous legal team, aided her in this process.[49] 

The German community provided a wealth of illicit talent as Mandelbaum built and maintained her business including a number of skilled artisans, some of whom used their craft for criminal activities such as melting down and re-engraving jewelry or removing marks from silks and re-stamping items. It is likely that German immigrant engravers who relied on profits from counterfeiting —  a trade more profitable than the book printing in which they were trained — made extra money working with Mandelbaum and other interested parties.[50]

Mandelbaum’s services, thus, aided those who made their living from theft in two central ways: by making sure merchandise could not be traced to anyone in particular, either thief or merchant, and by providing money to the thieves in exchange for the stolen goods. However, as Mandelbaum advanced in her “profession,” she not only received and sold illicit goods, she also became involved in the process of planning the crimes. With the capital she had amassed, she invested in major criminal enterprises and “protected” those with whom she worked through bribes, bail money, and legal representation. Mandelbaum became a reliable friend to the thieves that she worked with, footing bail when necessary. She served as “an honest crook” who helped members of her cohort get out of trouble. She bribed officials, or saw to it that the appropriate officials were bribed by others, in order to dismiss any charges brought against her protégés. She also found other ways to fix cases, such as finding “witnesses” who offered false testimony. All of these activities in the service of criminals made her “as well known around the Tombs and police courts as any well-known lawyer.”[51] 

Through her actions she gained the confidence of elite criminals like George Leonidas Leslie, one of the greatest bank robbers of the period. She had a close association with Michael Kurtz, known as a burglar in his own right, and a part of Leslie’s “gang.” Wesley Allen, touted to be one of the country’s “most notorious” burglars, used her services.[52] In 1878, Mandelbaum bankrolled a major portion of the Manhattan Savings Bank Robbery, one of the largest and most notorious bank robberies of the period, investing some $2,500 (approximately $55,000 in 2011$) in acquiring the most modern tools, so that Leslie could gather together the best and brightest to carry out this heist.[53]

As noted, the boom and bust economy of the era, the crowded, chaotic streets of Manhattan, the skills of the immigrant population of the Lower East Side that Mandelbaum repurposed for criminal activities, all helped her succeed. However, other factors helped her business grow and thrive as well. For example, the New York City Police department was a relatively new organization in the mid-nineteenth century. When Mandelbaum entered the business of crime in the 1850s, the official police force in New York City was only about ten years old and was relatively undefined and disorganized.[54] The citizenry and the police themselves had not yet completely formalized the role of the police department. It was generally agreed that policing social disorder, riots, gang fights, and drunk and disorderly persons on the street trumped going after high-level property crime. [55] The focus on policing explicit disorder helped professional criminals like Mandelbaum, who practiced their crafts surreptitiously.

Of equal significance was the system by which the police enforced property crimes. At the time, the police participated in a “reward system,” a holdover from a previous era of law enforcement under which victims of theft paid police to negotiate the return of their property. One newspaper complained that this system prevented any widespread suppression of crime and the apprehension of criminals because police only bothered with thieves when they were explicitly paid by the owners of the property.[56] Thus, some police officers acted on both sides of the law, which meant that criminals involved in property crimes against the elite had an advantage.

The law itself and political corruption contributed to Mandelbaum’s success. She benefited from the fact that the mid-nineteenth century was a very good time for those engaged in receiving stolen goods, her primary criminal activity. Early nineteenth-century penal codes, still based exclusively on English common law, generally defined receiving stolen property as “ancillary.” This meant that the receiver could only be prosecuted if she or he was clearly connected to a specific theft.[57] Sometimes receiving illicit goods was classified as a lesser crime, a misdemeanor, or sometimes as a greater crime, a felony, depending on the theft to which it was attached.[58] In much of nineteenth-century New York, a receiver could only be indicted, convicted, or punished if the thief connected to the stolen property was convicted of the theft.[59] In this way, receiving stolen goods, although an old and widely recognized practice, had little independent legal importance. Thus the law, at least for most of Mandelbaum’s career, favored her behavior. Furthermore, state law made bribery, something in which she engaged whenever necessary, difficult to prosecute. In 1868, the New York State legislature passed a law which said that in order to gain a conviction for bribery the person who had been offered the bribe had to testify to that fact and show corroborating evidence.[60] All the factors made it difficult for authorities to tackle Mandelbaum’s illicit entrepreneurial activities and some may have simply preferred to look the other way.

The period before, during, and after the Civil War afforded many opportunities for entrepreneurs to take advantage of corrupt political infrastructures in which relationships between those working in the “underworld” and “upper world” meshed.[61] The entire nation, it seemed, was operating in an environment of corruption that was becoming “distressingly common in this period of accelerating commercialization and industrial growth.”[62] During the Civil War, profiteering ran rampant and corruption and crime flourished. Some companies used the U.S. military’s desperate need for goods as an opportunity to pass off inferior products such as food, some of it inedible, to the government for military purposes. Such was the behavior of Philip Armour, the pork dealer, who provisioned the Union Army.[63] In another case of a desire for profits trumping business ethics, the Brooks Brothers clothing firm contracted with New York State for uniforms to be made out of regulation cloth, but the firm instead used a large amount of “shoddy,” a material made from recycled scraps, which fell apart easily when worn.[64] 

While the war offered legitimate businesses moneymaking opportunities, albeit through sometimes unethical means, it also gave career criminals like Mandelbaum opportunities to deal on the black market in goods that were scarce because they were needed for the war effort. It is probably no coincidence that John M. Briggs, a provisions merchant during the war, who later tried to help Mandelbaum after her arrest in 1884, earned at least $13,000 (approximately $240,000 in 2011$) in 1863 from his one-third interest in an army contract.[65]  Mandelbaum’s association with such an individual offers some insight into her own ability to be part of illicit trade that overlapped with licit trade during that period. And, in post-Civil War New York, “Boss” Tweed and his cronies made some three million dollars on one project alone.[66] Such corruption, including a desire for greater profits from combining licit and illicit business activities during the nineteenth century, allowed Mandelbaum to succeed financially and work relatively free of constraint for a long period of time.

Mandelbaum’s “friends” in the courts and in City Hall helped her escape serious prosecution for over thirty years. She later claimed that the origin of her 1884 legal problems, when she was brought up on grand larceny charges during investigations into police corruption, lay in her unwillingness to increase her “payments” to city officials. She lived and worked near the police department and the courts, just one block southeast of the Thirteenth Ward Patrol District station house, and a few blocks from the Fifth District Court, an advantage to someone who was interested in developing and cultivating relationships with potentially helpful officials. Judge Charles Donohue, for example, stalled her 1884 case for months which gave her time to deal more efficiently with the situation. Several years later, Donohue became a target of reformers’ investigations of corruption.[67]

Although it is impossible to find records of the exact amount of money that Mandelbaum made during the post-Civil War era or any other period, there are a number of clues that hint at an increase of income during those years. Among them, her direct connection to at least one businessman who made money during that era and the fact that she leased the property at 163 Rivington Street in 1864 (her dry goods store) and eventually owned the property outright, in addition to the Clinton Street property around the corner.[68] The connections that she made during the war years probably helped increase and maintain her business into the post-war period.

During these years, class distinctions and attitudes also helped those engaged in illegal activities. Concerned middle-class citizens disturbed by some lower-class residents’ support for criminals, exhibited distress about the ways in which some victims of crime reacted, especially those of the “rougher class.” Perpetrators of both crimes “against persons” and against property, they claimed, were more often than not released because the victims did not appear in court. Without witnesses, prosecutions could not move forward. One journalist seemed mystified by the “false sense of honor,” born out of “a sentiment of revolt against authority” and “consequent sympathy with the law-breaker” possessed by victims of that class.[69] Even though it is impossible to determine the extent to which class solidarity trumped the desire for criminal prosecution, it happened often enough to create anxiety and fear among some members of “respectable” society.

Some victims of crimes also feared reprisals and thus “lost interest” in prosecution. Likewise, some bankers and “wealthy merchants” made deals with thieves for the return of stolen property rather than pursue their prosecution in court. Reformers claimed that these businesspeople (often members of the middle and upper classes) set a poor “example” for everyone else.[70]  

It is significant that the intersection of three factors, Mandelbaum’s gender, her ethnicity, and her class, which would have kept her from succeeding in the legitimate, mainstream business world, allowed her to attain power and financial success in illegitimate business. The German community had its own attitudes about gender that had an influence on how women operated within that milieu. German working-class women, in general, like German-Jewish women, in particular, were expected to work and be part of the family economy. German people strove to advance and take care of their families, and German men often expected the women in their lives to give their all in this endeavor.[71] Not only did the women possess business skills and laboring strength, they were expected to use them.

Mandelbaum, a woman with business sense and skills, would have been unequivocally accepted within the German-American culture. She was smart, skilled, and strong, “an extraordinary apparition, over six-feet tall and tremendously strong,” according to one source.[72]  Among this class and ethnicity, she could be respected, while in the sensibilities of middle-class, native-born Americans, her appearance, ambitions, and talents might have been derided and suspect.

Mandelbaum’s Jewishness also influenced and affected her life as an entrepreneur. She transported her skills as the granddaughter, daughter, and wife of lower-class petty merchants, most probably itinerant peddlers, from Kassel to New York City.[73] As would be typical of a German-Jewish woman of her class, she participated directly in the family economy.[74] The German-Jewish tradition translated well into urban industrial life in America. There would have been no question that Mandelbaum, like most of her female German co-religionists, worked and contributed financially to the household.

Although anti-Jewish prejudices were far from absent in the United States, these stereotypes, ironically, may have actually helped in the development of a criminal career based on property crime. For example, a belief that Jews had innate business sense is implied in the assertion that Mandelbaum needed to haggle over the price of merchandise in order to satisfy her “race instinct.”[75] As stereotypical as this was, it did not in any way deflect those who respected her business acumen. Overall, Mandelbaum and others who shared her ethnicities, benefited from the belief that Germans were “law-abiding,” and that German-Jews had the “lowest incidence of criminality.”[76] Their true activities could often go unnoticed.

All of the aforementioned factors influenced Mandelbaum’s rise in the criminal underworld and her ability to maintain a successful business and a good reputation, even if it was in the illegitimate marketplace. Mandelbaum benefited from the interwoven social, political, and economic circumstances of the modernizing nineteenth-century. She benefited from the newness of laws dealing with the rapidly-changing economy and the confusion around enforcement and the role of the police department. The ability of career criminals to organize themselves into “gangs” of skilled professionals, the rapidly-growing availability of goods to buy, sell, and steal, the new technologies that moved people and goods in, out, and around the city, faster communication technology that allowed legitimate and illegitimate businesspeople to communicate in ways that members of pre-modern societies could not, all influenced the success of Mandelbaum, fellow thieves, and others who made money through illegitimate enterprise. As important as any of these individual factors was the general culture of corruption that obscured the lines between legal and illegal, legitimate and illegitimate, and the crowded conditions culminating from rapid urbanization that obscured the activities of people on the streets and in stores of the city. Additionally, gender, class, and ethnicity had their own unique ways of influencing success or failure in the business world in which Fredericka Mandelbaum operated.

Social status, networks, family and public life

At midcentury, the Mandelbaums left their old lives in Central Europe and joined the increasing numbers of Germans who headed to America.[77] They began a new life in New York City in Kleindeutschland, bounded on the east by the East River, on the north by Fourteenth Street, on the west by the Bowery and the infamous Five Points neighborhood, and on the south by Division Street.[78] Fredericka Mandelbaum started on the low end of the socio-economic scale as a peddler and petty merchant. However, she became well-known, respected, and even loved in the greater world that included thieves of all kinds, business people, police, judges, and politicians. Starting small, until they could afford better, the Mandelbaums would have lived in airless, lightless tenements at various addresses.

Even when the Mandelbaums lived in a better house in the 1860s — their large dwelling on the corner of Rivington and Clinton Streets — they were still perched precariously near the area that experienced some of the highest rates of diseases.[79] Their child, who had to endure the long ocean voyage with her mother, may have either died aboard the ship or after, as she disappeared from all records in New York City. It could well be that the little girl survived the journey but like so many other children of the poor, died from one of the diseases that often attacked those least able to fight them.[80] It is also quite likely that the harsh environment contributed to the illness that killed her husband.

During those early years, the Mandelbaum family remained small, but beginning in 1860, it grew quickly. Fredericka Mandelbaum gave birth to her eldest son, Julius in 1860, Sara in 1862, Gustav in 1864, and Anna in 1867.[81] By 1865, the family lived in a clapboard house in the Thirteenth Ward and stayed here for the next twenty years right in the heart of the expanding immigrant wards of Little Germany.[82] 

In spite of her humble origins and status upon arrival in New York City, Fredericka Mandelbaum became a well-respected and powerful entrepreneur within her own social milieu although she would never be considered respectable by middle-class reformers such as those who brought her down. However, she did not seem to care about their disdain for her.

The “Queen of Fences,” became the center of a criminal organization that included business and social relationships, which often overlapped.[83] Thus, her activities included social events. She gave parties at her Clinton Street apartment where a fascinating variety of people mingled. Guests, who included prominent criminals, as well as police, judges, and politicians, ostensibly received elegant invitations from “The Honorable and Mrs. William Mandelbaum,” with a note that the occasion was formal. It was at such a party that Sophie Elkins, age seventeen, who became known as the greatest confidence woman in American history, met her first husband Ned Lyons, a bank robber. In fact, Mandelbaum’s clout was such that certain individuals would seek her out to gain access to better opportunities. For example, Adam Worth, who made his name as a renowned art thief, vied for an invitation to one of her parties to hobnob with the elite of crime. It worked; not only did meeting Mandelbaum help his career, he also met important burglars who would assist him with his future endeavors.[84] Since many receivers of stolen goods and thieves traveled in the same circles, they often mingled socially, as in the case of these “business acquaintances,” who along with their families “and adherents” interacted at summertime picnics, where, for example, Mandelbaum “was the central figure in the entertainment.”[85] 

The degree to which Mandelbaum acted as the person to see if one wanted to climb the ladder of criminal success is illustrated in the rumors that spread about her maintaining a school of crime on Grand Street. According to the story, the school provided courses in the criminal arts, such as burglary, safe-cracking, blackmailing, and confidence games. Allegedly, she closed down the “school” when she found out that a police official’s son was one of her students.[86] Apocryphal or not, such stories support the idea that she maintained an elevated and important status in her world.                                    

Although it appears to have made no difference to her whether she worked with men or women, she had “an especial soft spot in her heart for female crooks.”[87] Even after she became a “godmother” of crime, not just receiving goods, but managing big store and bank heists, she helped women who were trying to move into the upper echelons of criminal activity.[88] She worked with and helped an array of successful female con artists, shoplifters, and thieves of all kinds. [89] For example, Mandelbaum’s support moved Sophie Lyons, who “adored” her mentor, into a whole new realm of achievement and celebrity as a criminal entrepreneur. She also helped men and it is significant that, despite gender norms of the period, in her particular world, the ideas about who should have certain kinds of power apparently made little difference as long as the appropriate people in her network, men and women, were compensated adequately. Certainly no one who worked and benefited from Mandelbaum’s prowess as an organizer of criminal activity appears to have expressed negative feelings about her gender.

While carrying out her criminal business, Mandelbaum lived a seemingly upstanding and otherwise normal life. By the 1860s she occupied a relatively large and nice house, by Lower East Side standards, and presented herself as a wife (later widow), mother, and respected member of her community. In keeping with her ongoing connection to her ancestry and roots, she was considered a generous member in good standing of her synagogue, Congregation Temple Rodeph Sholom.[90]

While she built and maintained her criminal enterprise she gained a reputation as a respected entrepreneur among her criminal cohort, others with whom she interacted in business, and as a pillar of her community as a whole. She provided employment for people in the area and helped struggling neighborhood businesspeople obtain goods at prices lower than those offered by legitimate wholesalers. Her neighbors showed their devotion and loyalty when Mandelbaum was under surveillance by Pinkerton detectives after her arrest in 1884. No sooner had these detectives procured an apartment from which they could watch Mandelbaum than the people involved in the transaction, or their emissaries, advised the fence of this development.[91] Robert Pinkerton, the head of the agency that brought her down, himself commented when he learned that she had fled New York instead of appearing in court for her trial, that her “neighbors are all friends and think a great deal of her, so they wouldn’t help us out.”[92] She had provided for the community in various ways, through jobs, financial contributions, and in ways that will never be known, and community members repaid her with their loyalty.[93]

Throughout her career, Mandelbaum was touted as a dedicated, attentive, and proud mother. Nell Campbell described a scene in which Mandelbaum invited her upstairs to hear one of the children recite.[94] Her eldest son Julius became part of the business starting at an early age; by the time he was fourteen, he ran errands for his mother while he worked as an assistant for a local brewer.[95] He eventually became a central figure of her team, a devoted son doing his mother’s bidding as she saw fit.[96] It does not appear that her other children played any significant part in the family business.

Mandelbaum’s “motherly” attentions also seemed to have been the way in which she dealt with her criminal cohort.[97] She purportedly explained to the warden at Sing Sing prison in Ossining, New York, that she was like a mother to her fellow travelers in property crime.[98] According to him, she said, “They call me Ma.” Even though, she declared, she was not their real mother, because she gave them ‘”money and horses and diamonds.” Her “generosity” and interest in their well-being made the members of her “gang” happy.[99] Not only did she see herself as a mother to her associates, they responded in kind. She sent bail money and funds for the defense of members of her “organization” near and far, to outer reaches of the United States, sometimes even to Canada and Europe, and even sent money when her associates ran out of cash in the planning and execution of crime in order to get the job done. Certainly this financing and “concern” was in her own interest, but it was apparently done in a spirit that drew many close to her.

Those she helped became devoted to “Marm” or “Ma” Mandelbaum.[100] For example, when she left  court the day of the 1884 bail hearing on charges of grand larceny, a group of young women, quite likely some of the shoplifters, pickpockets, and other young female thieves she purportedly mentored, “covered” her “with kisses” in a display of loyalty and affection.[101] There is also no doubt that among the large crowds who lined the streets in front of her house after the death of her young daughter in 1885, were those who still remembered her fondly and came out to acknowledge their connection to a respected member of the community. [102]

For some, Mandelbaum and her elite corps of thieves may have represented, if not heroic rebels, then people who wielded power and defied the authority of the rising moneyed interests of the Gilded Age. Her cohort generally robbed the rich and their institutions, like banks, jewelry stores, and large dry goods establishments, and may have appeared to poor New Yorkers as a force pushing back against the profound wealth inequalities of the era.

Even those who one might suppose would have little nice to say about a person in her position, found it hard to criticize her character. “As a woman and a mother [Mandelbaum] is spoken of with respect,” said Police Chief, George W. Walling.[103] He and others also portrayed her as a “wonderful person” and a “woman of ability and nerve,” and argued that “so successful a criminal career commands a sort of respect for the ability it displays.”[104] 

Perhaps her status among those who seemed to have meant the most to her, aside from her own family, the people with whom she lived and worked in her “beloved” Lower East Side is most evident in an obituary in the New York Volkszeitung, which referred to her as “honorable and reliable” in business dealings and asserted that “her word was as good as gold.” [105]

However, Mandelbaum’s status and notoriety moved beyond those who knew her through work and personal relationships. During the period in which she was indicted and awaiting trial in 1884, Mandelbaum appeared on a Puck cover that clearly placed her in the middle of a vehement initiative by reformers against corruption in the New York City police department. An explanation of the cover cartoon suggests that her arrest and hoped for conviction would do much to end corruption in the city. She was understood as an important real and symbolic part of the widespread corruption in the nation during the Gilded Age in the company of bank presidents and “lowly” swindlers as seen in a different cartoon from Puck in June of 1885. Perhaps most notably, she seemed to symbolize political differences between the United States and Canada regarding the issue of criminals fleeing to Canada and extradition treaties (or the lack thereof). Obviously, a bone of contention between the two countries, the representations in Puck speak to this issue and clearly present further evidence of the fame and perceived power that this noted receiver of stolen property had attained during her career in the city. Further, it is no mere trifle that a thinly veiled character, Mrs. Rosenbaum, a powerful receiver of stolen property, showed up in a popular melodrama in the 1890s; savvy reviewers and theatergoers knew exactly upon whom the character was based.[106]


Fredericka Mandelbaum, a German-Jewish immigrant to New York City, worked her way up from a poor peddler with few resources to a powerful criminal entrepreneur. She used and honed skills that she most likely brought with her from Hesse-Kassel where her family had worked as petty merchants, typical for many Jews of her class. As a relatively poor German immigrant, a woman, and a Jew, she had few opportunities to rise above her station in the legitimate world of business. Within the boom and bust economy of burgeoning capitalism, she grabbed hold of opportunities on the streets of the city.

Mandelbaum took advantage of the economy of the streets among the poor and working class immigrants who did whatever they could to eke out a living. She used the talents of her immigrant neighbors, befriended thieves, police, judges, and supposed legitimate business people. Mandelbaum invested in business ventures, such as lucrative bank robberies, from which she received money, bonds, and goods from safe deposit boxes. She took care of the people with whom she worked by buying the proceeds of robberies, storing goods that could not be circulated safely back into the community for a time, and providing bail and other money and resources to her cohort when necessary for their sustenance between jobs. In other words, she would very much fit into the stereotype of a godfather in an organized crime story of the twentieth century as we imagine them.

Fredericka Mandelbaum was indeed an entrepreneur. Because she was an immigrant and a woman, such a story does not often get told within this model. Yet, her background gave her at least a start in business, as Jews of her period and class had few but these kinds of opportunities for eking out a living in the German states, and as both a part of German and Jewish culture of the lower classes, she could not only be part of the economic functioning of her family and community, she was expected to be and accepted in her roles as wife, mother, and provider. As a lower-class immigrant woman, she could apparently make choices and earn a living outside of the constraints of gender norms in the criminal economy in ways she could not within the legitimate world. Although most women of any class would not reach her level of wealth and status, the fact that she lived outside of the constraints of a middle-class gender ideology bolstered the opportunities for success for someone like Mandelbaum who possessed confidence, intelligence, and the appropriate skills to build a solid business in the illegitimate marketplace.

Mandelbaum died in Hamilton, Ontario, far away from the Lower East Side of New York that she appears to have loved so much. In spite of her riches, until forced by legal circumstances, she never wanted to move away from the people and place to which she felt so connected for both business and personal reasons. In 1884, because of her fame, fortune, and the ways that she attained it, she was caught in the crossfire of a struggle for power waged by the city’s reformers and fled to Canada where she lived until her death in 1894.


[1] Friederike’s mother’s Hebrew name is listed as well as her secularized name. During this period Jews still referred to each other by Hebrew names, so she was probably known to her friends and family as Rahel Lea and the father would probably have been Shmuel Avraham, but it is clear that in the German states the secularized name was also important from a legal standpoint.

[2] Immigrant list Kassel 1812.

[3] It was only for the few years that Napoleon held Prussian territory in the disparate German states that Jews had full citizenship status in these Napoleonic states. Until the final consolidation and emancipation in 1871, Jews experienced differing levels and kinds of discrimination in the many states. After Napoleon was defeated, terrible violence erupted against Jews. Anti-Jewish sentiment and acts were not new in Germany and it certainly affected choices made by families such as the Weisners and Mandelbaums, the specific subjects of this story.

[4] Information from immigrant list from Kassel 1812. The Weisners might have ended up with their surname because the village of Abterode and its nearby city, Eschwege, was located in a hill region called “Meissner” which was formerly called Weissner. Name information from research done in Germany and the following:,,, and

[5] John Theibault, German Villages in Crisis: Rural Life in Hesse-Kassel and the Thirty Years’ War, 1580-1720 (Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1995), 65.

[6] Marion Kaplan, Jewish Daily Life in Germany 1618-1945 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2005), 130-132.

[7] Ibid., 122.

[8] H. Thiele: Die israelitsche Gemeinde zu Kassel im 19. Jarhundert (1986). H. Thiele: Die judischen Einwohner zu Kassel 1700-1942, Familiendaten und Adressen (2006). These lists were researched by genealogist Marc Jarzebowski in Germany. Like his wife, Wolf Mandelbaum’s birth is not recorded for the same reasons as hers is not, but his tombstone identifies his place of origin as Grebenstein. The German lists give Wolf Mandelbaum’s age as 26 and Fredericka’s as 24 at the time of their marriage. Interpretation of the following sources showed a discrepancy of two years with Fredericka aged two years younger. Union Fields Cemetery of Congregation Rodeph Sholom, Queens, New York. NYCMA, Board of Health of the City of New York, Certificate of Death for Wolf Mandelbaum. Ship’s manifest as listed on and

[9] Hasia Diner, A Time for Gathering: The Second Migration 1820-1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992) 12. Michael Meyer, ed., German-Jewish History in Modern Times: Volume 2, Emancipation and Acculturation, 1780-1871(New York: Columbia University, 1996).

[10] Ibid., 69.

[11] Ibid., 11-13.

[12] Ibid., 14-16, 19. Meyer, ed., 69-71. Howard M Sachar, A History of Jews in America (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1992), 39. Although, they are listed as having been married in histories of Jews in Kassel, they might have had to wait for a space to open on the Matrikel, the document that Jewish communities were forced to maintain that noted which Jewish families were authorized to live in the community. The number was capped and it was only when a space on the list was freed through death that a Jewish marriage could take place. This could explain why there is only a space of four months between the couple’s wedding and the birth of their daughter.

[13] H. Thiele: Die Israelitische Gemeinde zu Kassel im 19. Jahrhundert (1986). H. Thiele: Die judischen Einwohner zu Kassel 1700-1942, Familiendaten und Adressen (2006). Mormon Records, Film No. 0839331.

[14] MeasuringWorth. This is based on a simple purchasing power calculation in which the relative value of $1 in 1880 would be $22.70 today.

[15] MeasuringWorth. See above.

[16] “Crime and the Police,” New York Times, 24 July 1884, 4.

[17] Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 1825-1863 (New York: Columbia University, 1949) 42. Stanley Nadel, Little German: Ethnicity, Religion, and Class in New York City, 1845-80 (Urbana: University Press, 1990)   32.

[18] Nadel, 35.

[19] William Perris, Maps of the City of New York surveyed under  Directions of Insurance Companies and said City, Volume 2, 1852, comprising 7th, 10th & 13th Ward. Eric Homberger, Historical Atlas of New York City (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1994), 99.

[20] Ninth Census, 13th Ward, 2nd Election District, 1870, p.95. This is only the reported small neighborhood industry; other activities probably operated unreported.

[21] New York State Census of 1855, 13th Ward, 2nd Election District, p.117.

[22] Luc Sante, Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York (New York: Vintage Departures, 1992), 61-62. Tyler Anbinder, Five Points: The 19th-Century New York City Neighborhood That Invented Tap Dance, Stole Elections, And Became The World’s Most Notorious Slum (New York: Plume, 2002),  376-377. Ernst, 80.

[23]Leo Hershkowitz, Tweed’s New York: Another Look (Garden City: Anchor Books, 1978), 61. Edward K. Spann, New Metropolis: New York City, 1840-157 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1981), 394-395. Anbinder, 134-135. Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 842-851.

[24] Christine Stansell, City of Women: Sex and Class in New York, 1789-1860 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press,1995), 50-51, 204. Ray Papke, Framing the Criminal: Crime, Cultural Work and the Loss of Critical Perspective, 1830-1900 (Hamden, Connecticut: Archon Books, 1987), 6-7. Spann, 262.

[25] Anbinder, 120. Burrows and Wallace, 1000-1001. Ernst, 88. Sophie Lyons, Crime Does Not Pay (New York: J.S. Ogilvie Publishing Co., 1913), 187-201. “The Police,” New York Times, 5 January 1865, 8. “Pawnbrokers: How Boys are Induced to Steal,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 4 February 1876, 4.

[26] Brooklyn Eagle, 10 August 1884, 4; 11 December 1878, 4. Chicago Daily Tribune, 25 July 1884, 3. New York Times, 24 July 1884, 5. The Sun, 23 July 1884, 1.

[27] “A Queen Among Thieves,” New York Times, 24 July 1884, 5; “They Find a Mrs. Mandelbaum Selling Laces in Their City,” 10 December 1885, 1.

[28] “Mother Mandelbaum Dead,” Boston Daily Globe, 27 February 1894, 2; “A Queen Among Thieves,” 24 July 1884, 5.

[29] “Mother Mandelbaum’s Mortgage,” New York Times, 19 February 1885, 3.

[31] George W. Walling, Recollections of a New York Chief of Police (New York: Caxton Book Concern, LTD, 1887), 281.

[32] Stephen Longstreet, ed. Nell Kimball: Her Life as an American Madam, by Herself (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1970), 175.

[33] The Board of Health of the City of New York. Certificate of Death for Wolf Mandelbaum, aged 51 years, 6 months.

[34] Rental agreement, Liber 918, Page 280, between Frederick [sic] Mandelbaum and L.B. and M. Reed, agreed upon between the parties on July 20, 1864. Entered into the official record with New York County Clerk, January 3,1865. Acquired from City Register’s Office, New York City. These are the simplest calculations. In New York City today, no one can rent an apartment for this amount per year. Depending on the type of calculations used, the amounts would range from these numbers up to +/- $500,000. See MeasuringWorth. Calculations are based on Samuel H. Williamson, “Five Ways to Compute the Relative Value of a U.S. Dollar Amount, 1790-2005,” MeasuringWorth.Com, 2006.

[35] New York City Register’s Office. Property manuscripts, Block 348, Section 2.

[36] Ninth Census of the United States1870, 95. Once again this calculation is a simple one. The amount can range from one based on a simple consumer price index, which would be around $84,000 up to one based on the Gross Domestic Product and compared to unskilled wages, which would be at least $577,000. Mandelbaum’s estate would likely have been worth more than what was stated and the amount her money was worth in our terms is hard to compare. Even with the stated worth, they were doing well for a family on the Lower East Side.

[37] Walling, 283. Lyons, 196-201. “‘Mother Mandelbaum,’ The Infamous Thief Arrested,” New York Staats Zeitung und Herald, 23 July 1884. “Mother Mandelbaum Out,” The Sun, 24 July 1884, 1. “Crime and the Police,” New York Times, 24 July 1884, 4; “A Queen Among Thieves,” 5. “A Famous Female Thief,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 July 1884, 3. “Life in New York City,” Brooklyn Eagle, 27 July 1884, 3. Herbert Asbury, The Gangs of New York: An Informal History of the New York Underworld (New York: Old Town Books, 1928), 215. Nadel, 88.

[38] “A Queen Among Thieves,” 24 July 1884, 5. “Mother Mandelbaum’s Rackett,” National Police Gazette, 16 August 1884. “A Famous Female Thief,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 July 1884, 3.

[39] Walling, 283.

[40] “A Queen Among Thieves,” New York Times, 24 July 1884, 5; “Her Son Julius Bailed,” 26 July 1884, 5. “Mother Mandelbaum Indicted,” Boston Daily Globe, 16 August 1884, 2. Tenth Census of the United States, 1880, New York, New York Roll: T9_873; Family History Film: 1254873; Page: 310.4000; Enumeration District: 151; Image: 0624.

[41] National Police Gazette, 30 March 1867, 8. Walling, 286. “River Pirates,” Brooklyn Eagle, 23 April 1873, 4.

[42] “Burglary As An Art,” New York Times, 7 March 1875, 9; 29 April 1876, 8.

[43] Walling, 281. Walling implies that she made friends in the right places.

[44] “Crime and the Police,” New York Times. 24 July 1884, 4.

[45] New York Daily Tribune 5 December 1884.

[46] “Life in New York,” The Brooklyn Eagle, 27 July 1884, 3. “A Famous Female Thief,” San Francisco Chronicle, 25 July 1884, 3. “Queen of the ‘Crooks,’” New York World, 27 February 1894, 10. Walling, 281. Papke, 15.

[47] “Mother Mandelbaum Dead,” Boston Daily Globe, 27 February 1894, 2. “A Queen Among Thieves,” New York Times, 24 July 1884, 5.

[48] “Burglary As An Art,” New York Times, 7 March 1875, 9.

[49] Richard H. Rovere, Howe & Hummel: Their True and Scandalous History (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1974), 6. Walling, 281. Burrows and Wallace, 1000. Ben Macintyre, The Napoleon of Crime: The Life and Times of Adam Worth, Master Thief (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1997), 30.

[50] Lyons, 191-193. Nadel, 88.

[51] New York Tribune, 23 July 1884.

[52] Thomas Byrnes, 1886 Professional Criminals of America (New York: The Lyons Press, 2000, 1969, originally printed 1886).

[53] MeasuringWorth, “Stories of Old New York,” New York Times, 28 April 1889, 20.

[54] James Richardson, The New York Police: Colonial Times to 1901 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 190-191. Edward Robb Ellis, The Epic of New York City, 1825-1863 (New York: Kondasha International, 1966), 39. James Lardner and Thomas Repetto,NYPD: A City and Its Police (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2000), 23, 52-53. The police department’s newness affected its ability to define and “fight” crime. Political wrangling between up-state legislators and their supporters (mostly Republicans) and downstate (mostly Democrats) government and party officials and supporters resulted in state governance of the police. The city-run Municipal Police Department was replaced with the state-run Metropolitan Police in 1857, another new entity. The force came back under city control again in 1870. Thus, the department had a contentious early history that certainly affected its ability to deal with crime.

[55] Papke, 5.

[56] Lardner and Repetto, 15, 30. David R. Johnson, Policing the Urban Underworld: The Impact of Crime on the Development of the American Police, 1800-1887 (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1979), 56-57. This system is understandable as it was probably an outgrowth of the early system under which informers were paid rewards by city governments. This early system influenced magistrates and later professional police officers.

[57] Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History (New York: Basic Books, 1993), 110.

[58] Sir William Oldnall Russell, A Treatise on Crimes and Indictable Misdemeanors: with Additional Notes of Decisions in the American Courts, by Daniel Davis (Philadelphia: 1831), 252-254. Most states used statutes based on English common law until well into the American Industrial Revolution, yet stolen goods laws began changing as early as 1806. In that year, a Massachusetts court ruled that an indictment could be made against someone receiving stolen goods in Massachusetts even though the goods had been stolen in another state. This added the element of interstate commerce to the equation and judged the states as linked together in this type of proceeding for the first time. The changes during that period were based, in part, on the struggle of the nation to continue to break away from English identification.

[59] Oliver L. Barbour, A Treatise on the Criminal Law of the State of New York: and Upon the Jurisdiction, Duty, and Authority of Justices of the Peace, and, incidentally, of the Power and Duty of Sheriffs, Constables, &c. in Criminal Cases, 2nd ed. (Albany: 1852), 156. 

[60] John Steele Gordon, An Empire of Wealth: The Epic of American History, 1607-2001 (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2004), 208.

[61] Alan Block, East Side West Side: Organizing Crime in New York 1930-1950 (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2005, 1983), 10.

[62] Kenneth M. Stampp, America in 1857: A Nation on the Brink (Oxford: Oxford University Press, Inc., 1990), 30.

[63] Matthew Josephson, The Robber Barons (San Diego: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1934), 102.

[64] Ernest A. McKay, The Civil War and New York City (Syracuse: Syracuse University Press, 1991), 73. “The State Army Contracts,” New York Times, 5 September 1861, 2. “New York Clothing Frauds,” Chicago Tribune, 18 July 1861, 2. Burrows and Wallace, 875.

[65] MeasuringWorth.New York Daily Tribune, 26 July 1884.

[66] The infamous Tweed courthouse was projected to cost $325,000 and wound up with a price tag of over three million dollars, most of which was from kickbacks that wound up directly in the pockets of Tweed and his friends. This proved to be his downfall because of the emergence of a crackdown by middle-class reformers, such as Samuel Tilden who was looking for his own entrée into a position of political power.

[67] NYCMA, District Attorney’s Indictment Papers, People vs. Fredericka Mandelbaum, Hermann Stoude, and Julius Mandelbaum, transferred from Court of General Session to Court of Oyer and Terminer, November 1884. “Mother Mandelbaum’s Struggles,” New York Times, 20 September 1884, 8; “The Mandelbaum Cases,” 20 November 1884, 3; “Judge Donohue’s Decisions,” 8 April 1886, 3; “Judge Donohue’s Friends,” 3 May 1886, 4. “Our New York Letter,” Albany Law Journal: A Weekly Record of the Law and Lawyers, 8 May 1886, 361; “Current Topics,” 30 April 1887, 341.

[68] NYCRO, Block Index of Rendered Conveyances, Property Manuscripts, Section 2, Block 348, Lot 21. Property Deed and Liber 918, p. 280.

[69] “Worse Than the Thieves,” New York Times, 4 January 1871, 4

[70] Ibid.

[71] Nadel, 68-69.

[72] “Mutter Mandelbaum gestorben,” New York Volkszeitung, 27 February 1894.

[73] Michael A. Meyer, ed., German-Jewish History in Modern Times, Volume 2, Emancipation and Acculturation, 1780-1871 (New York: Columbia University Press, 1996), 69.                                                                                                  

[74] Diner, 12. Meyer, 69.

[75] Walling, 285. In Germany, Jewish traders were often seen as necessary evils, hated among all classes, while in America, overall, they were stereotyped, yet somehow respected for their innate abilities.

[76] Ernst, 58.

[77] Ernst, 4. Sachar, 52. “Summary of Geographical Movement of European Jews in Past 2,000 Years.” Some ninety percent of all immigration from Europe originated in the German states during the 1850s; during this decade, German immigration surged from twenty-one percent of total immigration at the start of 1850 to fifty percent in 1854 and stayed steady at around thirty-five percent for the rest of the decade.

[78] Ernst, 195.

[79] Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of Nearly 400 Years of New York City’s History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1995), 99. Clayton L. Thomas, ed. Taber’s Cyclopedic Medical Dictionary (Philadelphia: F.A. Davis, 1984), 1097. Phthisis refers to any disease of wasting away, particularly pulmonary tuberculosis.

[80] There is an unidentified gravesite in the cemetery plot along with one that is identified, possibly the child of another member of the family. It is overgrown and hard to read, but seems to be engraved with a boy’s name, possibly William. The father’s name is Louis Mandelbaum and could be Wolf’s brother. It is possible that Bertha died sometime between 1850 and 1860. She may have even died on the trip to America, an unfortunate outcome of the spread of disease through steerage. Whatever the circumstance, she would not have been interred in the Rodeph Sholom plot (at least originally) because it was probably purchased around the time of Wolf Mandelbaum’s death in 1875. The details are unclear, but fit into the possibilities of life for poor people on the Lower East Side.

[81] Ninth Census of the City of New York, 13th Ward, Second Election District, 1870, p.95. Birth and Death Records (Board of Health of the City of New York, 1860), Vol. 7, 45. Gravestone markings at Union Field Cemetery of Congregation Rodeph Sholom. Questions about how and why Mandelbaum waited (and was able to wait considering the state of birth control at the time) remain. It seems that she had the four living children around the time that her financial circumstances began to improve.

[82] Trow’s New York City Directory (New York: The Trow City Directory Company, 1857, 1863-64, 1866-67, 1870-71). The New York City Directory (New York: Charles R. Rode, 1865-66). Eighth Census of the State of New York, 13th Ward, 2nd Election District Eighth Census of the United States, 1860, 91. Ninth Census, 1870, 95; Tenth Census, 1880, 36. New York City Register’s Office, Property Deed and Records, Liber 918, 280. Property Manuscripts, Block 348, Section 2.

[83] New York Times. 24 July 1884, 5; 31 July 1884, 5 Mandelbaum was often referred to as “Queen of fences” in media accounts.

[84] Walling, 291. Longstreet, 175-176. Floyd Carlson, The Lady of Lyons (New York: McFadden Publications Inc., 1942), 1-2. Asbury, 215. Papke, 14.

[85] “How Porter and Irving Were Not Arrested,” New York Times, 13 August 1879, 8.

[86] Irving Howe, World of our Fathers: The Journey of the East European Jews to America and the Life they Found and Made (San Diego: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 100. Sante, 210.

[87] Macintyre, 31. Asbury, 216.

[88] Burrows and Wallace, 1000.

[89] Macintyre, 29.

[90] Walling, 291.

[91] “Mrs. Mandelbaum Missing,” New York Times, 5 December 1884, 1.

[92] “Mrs. Mandelbaum Missing,” New York Times, 5 December 1884, 1.

[93] “New York Rogues,” Brooklyn Eagle, 10 August 1884, 4.

[94] Longstreet, 175.

[95] “Her Son Julius Bailed,” New York Times, 26 July 1884, 5.

[96] “Her Son Julius Bailed,” New York Times, 26 July 1884, 5. Walling, 289.

[97] “Mr. McGlory et Al,” Brooklyn Eagle, 11 August, 1884, 2.

[98] Macintyre, 29.

[99] Warden Lewis E. Lawes, Cell 202 Sing Sing (New York: Farrar & Rinehart,1935), 485-486. Carl B. Klockars, The Professional Fence (New York: The Free Press, 1974), 297.

[100] Walling, 286.

[101] “Mother Mandelbaum Out,” The Sun, July 24, 1884, 1.

[102] “New York Rogues,” Brooklyn Eagle, 10 August 1884, 4. “Mrs. Mandelbaum Missing,” New York Times, 5 December 1884, 1.

[103] Walling, 289.

[104] New York Daily Tribune, 5 December 1884. Walling, 281.

[105] New York Volkzeitung, 27 February 1894.

[106] “The Great Diamond Robbery,” by Colonel Edward M. Alfriend and A.C. Wheeler, in America’s Lost Plays, Volumes VII, Arthur Hobson Quinn, ed., “The Early Plays of James A. Herne,” and VIII, Garret H. Leverton, ed., “The Great Diamond Robbery & Other Recent Melodramas,” by Edward M. Alfriend & A. C. Wheeler, Clarence Bennett, Charles A. Taylor, Lillian Mortimer, and Walter Woods (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1962, 1940), Volume VIII, 50-100.New York Times, 5 September 1895, 5. Chicago Daily Tribune, 8 September 1895, 36.


Cite this Entry

APA Style

"Fredericka Mandelbaum." (2018) In Immigrant Entrepreneurship, Retrieved February 21, 2018, from Immigrant Entrepreneurship:

Chicago Style

Holub, Rona. "Fredericka Mandelbaum." In Immigrant Entrepreneurship: German-American Business Biographies, 1720 to the Present, vol. 2, edited by William J. Hausman. German Historical Institute. Last modified October 15, 2013.

MLA Style

"Fredericka Mandelbaum," Immigrant Entrepreneurship, 2018, Immigrant Entrepreneurship. 21 Feb 2018 <>

Drawing of Fredericka Mandelbaum

  • Tombs Jail, New York City, ca. 1896
  • Birds-eye view of New York City, ca. 1856
  • Birds-eye view of New York City looking north from battery Park, 1870
  • Fredericka Mandelbaum, receiver of stolen goods

See more images »