Bessie Foust and Maud Hoffnagle were two young women who lived in Camden, New Jersey. They had been together for quite some time, long enough for one of their fathers to remark that "they loved each other like man and woman,"
From the census records below we can gather that Bessie must have been born in Pennsylvania and that her family moved to New York or New Jersey sometime between 1876 and 1887. Her fathers occupation on the record was listed as "Bird Dealer" and both of her brothers are listed as "Compositor".
By 1910 her father had also passed away, her mother Martha and sister Helen were living alone at 721 Federal St. Helen, age 22, was working as a bookkepper at a Soap shop. Martha, now 65, was taking care of the house. Charles, her brother, married in 1903 to "Lena" and the young couple moved to 831 Park Ave in Collingswood, Camden, New Jersey which was less than four miles away, a direct shot down Haddon Ave. Although they had been married seven years by this time, Charles and Lena had had no children. I haven't found a record of the older brother, George, but there is one man who fits his description living alone in Danville, Pennsylvania in 1910, a laborer of odd jobs - but there is no way to be sure that it is the same person.
Tyrone Daily Herald (Tyrone, Pennsylvania) - August 17, 1898
DOUBLE SUICIDE in PHILADELPHIA
Philadelphia, Aug. 17.-"Because of a belief that they were unfit to live, two girls, of whom the father of one said 'they loved each other like man and woman,' committed suicide yesterday by jumping from a ferryboat into the Delaware river. They were Bessie Foust, age 19, of 721 Federal street, Camden, N.J., and Maud Hoffnagle, age 20, of 423 Reed street, this city. Both took the leap to death together, hand in hand, and were drowned before a rescue could be effected. The double suicide was evidently prearranged. A note was found in a pocketbook they had left behind. It was signed Maud and Bessie, and consisted of a quotation from a melancholy poem and the words, "We find we are utterly unfit for this world and will try another."
Bismark Daily Tribune (Bismark, North Dakota) - August 18, 1898
Two Young Women Jump From a Ferryboat at Philadelphia
PHILADELPHIA, Aug 18 - Because of a belief that they were unfit to love, two girls, of whom the father of one said "they loved each other like man and woman," committed suicide by jumping from a ferry boat into the Delaware river. They were Bessie Foust, aged 18, of Camden, N.J., and Maud Hoffnagle, age 20, of this city. They took the leap to death together, hand in hand, and were drowned before a rescue be affected.
The double suicide was evidently prearranged. The girls had been close associates for five or six weeks and alternated in visit to each other's home, spending two and three days at a time,
The Big Stone Gap Post (Big Stone Gap, Virginia) - September 22, 1898
STUDY OF DOUBLE SUICIDE
The Philadelphia Medical Journal Weighs the Power of Morbid Suggestion
A fascinating study of "The Psychology of Double Suicide" is presented in the current issue of the Philadelphia Medical Journal, in connection with the tragedy in which Maude Hoffnagle and Bessie Foust leaped together from a Delaware ferry boat here recently. Among other things this scientific analysis of that unique sensation says:
"The dramatic double suicide presents a problem of unusual interest to the mind of the medico-psychologist. Double suicides are not unheard of, but they are at least comparatively rare, especially in cases where both victims are of the same sex.
"This instance presents the very quintessence of hypnology, according to any rational and scientific criticism of that cult, because it means simply the overpowering influence of suggestion acting upon a susceptible brain. The last word of encouragement spoken ere they took the fatal plunge was, in the case of these young women, endowed with a potency that far exceeded the average spell exercised by the most expert master in suggestive psychology.
"A morbid thought may be nourished and developed into frightful dimensions by the constant brooding over it of two or more distraught minds; suicide may thus become epidemic."
721 Federal Street, Camden, New Jersey - 1900
Foust, George (father) - b May 1846, married 31 years, born in PA
" , Martha (mother) - b March 1846, 9 children - 7 living, born in PA
" , George M (son) - b March 1872, widow, born in Pennsylvania
" , Charles (son) - b December 1876 in Pennsylvania
" , Helen (daughter) - b November 1887 in New York