A case which has passed from the public consciousness, but which in its time fascinated the United States, was the adulterous relationship between the prominent and popular minister Henry Ward Beecher and Elizabeth Tilton, the wife of an important member of his church. Mrs. Tilton more than once confessed adultery, and then revoked her confessions. The dispute led to a fabulously notorious court trial when Mr. Tilton brought suit against Beecher. Beecher's reputation was tarnished, but in a pattern which will be familiar to modern court-watchers, both of the Tiltons were socially and professionally destroyed.
A legal sidelight on this trial was the prosecution of Victoria Woodhull for sending obscene material through the mail when she broke the Beecher-Tilton story in her Weekly. She was enraged by learning that Beecher was sleeping with his best friend's wife, although he had preached passionately against Woodhull's doctrine of free love. Her acquittal is a landmark of freedom of the press; although the material she published created a scandal, it was not obscene by the normal standards of the day.