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Women Who Kill Men

Women Who Kill Men: California Courts, Gender, and the Press

Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 296
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  • Book Info
    Women Who Kill Men
    Book Description:

    The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were a revolutionary period in the lives of women, and the shifting perceptions of women and their role in society were equally apparent in the courtroom.Women Who Kill Menexamines eighteen sensational cases of women on trial for murder from 1870 to 1958.

    The fascinating details of these murder trials, documented in court records and embellished newspaper coverage, mirrored the changing public image of women. Although murder was clearly outside the norm for standard female behavior, most women and their attorneys relied on gendered stereotypes and language to create their defense and sometimes to leverage their status in a patriarchal system. Those who could successfully dress and act the part of the victim were most often able to win the sympathies of the jury. Gender mattered. And though the norms shifted over time, the press, attorneys, and juries were all informed by contemporary gender stereotypes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8032-2657-9
    Subjects: Sociology, Law, History
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Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. INTRODUCTION: The Feminine Side of Women on Trial (pp. 1-15)

    This study of women on trial for homicide examines newspaper coverage of these proceedings and the constructions of their attorneys in California cases, 1870–1958. Our focus is on the representations of women, case by case, in the newspapers and in trial-court settings, and the rhetoric of attorneys. We make comparisons over time and place to ferret out the nuances of gender, femininity, and the law. We cover almost a century of cases in a single state, giving this work a unique legal focus.¹ We explore trial tactics as well as public relations with the press. In our nineteenth-century cases,...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Sanest of Them All?: The Insanity Defense in Court and in the Press (pp. 16-54)

    Postbellum California put the gold rush, the Mexican War, and the Civil War experiences behind to build a new image of maturing economic life, bucolic agricultural enterprise, and cultural sophistication. California in the nineteenth century boasted two major cities, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In southern California, cultural elites labored to erase and at the same time capitalize on the romanticized Spanish past to create social, economic, and political power.¹ A potent means to this end was media, particularly theLos Angeles Timesnewspaper. Harrison Gray Otis and his talented journalists, including Charles Fletcher Lummis, Harry Carr, Robert J. Burdette,...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Good Riddance: Justifiable Homicides of Enemy Deviants (pp. 55-80)

    California’s nineteenth century featured several cases in which women, like Katie Cook, found themselves driven to rid their households, if not civilization, of enemy deviants. In 1901, for example, Clara A. Wellman shot her husband through the heart with a rifle, ending three years of terror. Clara Wellman, like Katie Cook, terminated a community terrorist, this time in the San Jacinto Mountains in California’s inland empire.

    Clara had married Frank P. Wellman, a quarter century her senior, at age thirteen. Frank worked as a rancher and “was a decent fellow when sober.”¹ By the time she was nineteen and the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Toward the New Woman: Feminine Wiles on Trial (pp. 81-112)

    The Victorianism of the long nineteenth century gave way to the “new woman” of the 1920s. Fashion, although arguably frivolous, clearly documents this change. The stylish turn-of-the-century Victorian woman’s hourglass figure required a tightly laced whalebone corset exerting twenty-five pounds of pressure per square inch on her ribcage. To prevent fainting fashionable Victorian ladies carried smelling salts out of necessity. By 1913 the fashion-conscious new woman strapped down her breasts, wore a girdle under a short hemline, and sheared off her Victorian tresses to a chin-length bob—the so-called flapper style. The new woman also wore makeup, whereas a respectable...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Haves and the Have Nots: Women on Trial during the Great Depression (pp. 113-135)

    The Great Depression of the 1930s endangered the material dreams of many Californians living outside the prosperity of Hollywood’s movie industry and the corporate factories in the fields of California agribusiness. It was a period characterized by labor unrest with agricultural strikes in the Imperial Valley, the San Joaquin Valley, and other centers of corporate farming. Longshoremen successfully orchestrated a general strike in San Francisco in 1934, and the entire city shut down for days in support of their “boys.” Corporate California organized to counter the gains of labor, yet New Deal programs brought socialism to a state that had...

  9. [Illustrations] (pp. None)
  10. CHAPTER FIVE War Women of the 1940s: Evolutionary Women in Revolutionary Times (pp. 136-160)

    World War II pulled the United States out of the Great Depression, created new employment opportunities for women, and made the country a world power. Women went to work in defense industries, joined the armed services, and flew military aircraft as Women Airforce Service Pilots. They helped the country win World War II, but after the war the country they had served disbanded their military units and denied them military benefits. Yet women now knew they could weld, fire antiaircraft artillery, and fly seventy-eight types of military aircraft. America would not be the same as women entered peacetime civilian life....

  11. CHAPTER SIX Celebrity on Trial: Tinseltown Tarnished (pp. 161-185)

    American spectators love a good show, and the trial of a celebrity is the best spectacle. Thane Rosenbaum argues, “The courtroom as theater is as old as ‘Oedipus Rex.’ We have come to organize our lives around the law, and our cultural consumption is overwhelmingly fed by the calories of courtrooms.”¹ In 1955 Broadway brought theatergoers the Scopes Monkey Trial viaInherit the Wind. Twelve Angry Menwas on stage in 1954 and in movie theaters in 1957. Rosenbaum notes, “That ‘Inherit the Wind’ and ‘Twelve Angry Men’ have undergone so many creative incarnations demonstrates the litheness of law as...

  12. CONCLUSION (pp. 186-198)

    The newspaper stories, editorials, and statements of counsel reveal much about the image of women caught up in California’s criminal justice administration system. The trials involving middle- and upper-class deceased men and their alleged slayers highlighted dominant cultural norms of the times. This culture reflected the signs and practices of journalists and lawyers represented in words and behaviors.¹ Victorian values defining the feminine as existing in a domestic sphere, providing for the care of children, and educating the next generation in morality came under attack by the turn of the century. “Feminist scholars demolished Victorian ideas about female intuition, hysteria,...

  13. NOTES (pp. 199-248)
  14. BIBLIOGRAPHY (pp. 249-262)
  15. INDEX (pp. 263-272)
  16. Back Matter (pp. 273-274)