This essay explores the story of Nancy Clem, an outwardly respectable Indianapolis confidence woman and alleged murderess, in the context of changing constructions of class, gender, and criminality. It examines various ways in which lawyers, newspaper reporters, and ordinary citizens struggled to understand a woman who did not fit preexisting conceptions of gender and crime. A series of high-profile cases involving bourgeois criminals and (more than likely) Clem's own social aspirations allowed cultural commentators to portray her as a “genteel murderess.” Upon her release from prison after an abortive fifth trial, Clem could not sustain her newly acquired social identity, in part because her erstwhile refinement was a journalistic creation and in part because the changing nature of class, gender, and space in Gilded Age Indianapolis provided her with fewer opportunities for self-fashioning. Clem's social odyssey from half-literate “Butternut” to genteel murderess to uncultured “capitalist” reflects slippery, yet significant, transitions between social fluidity and relative rigidity, antebellum respectability and Gilded Age gentility.Also in the issue is a review essay that takes up Christopher Waldrep’s Jury Discrimination: The Supreme Court, Public Opinion, and a Grassroots Fight for Racial Equality in Mississippi (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2010).
Thursday, July 26, 2012
Gamber's "Notorious Mrs. Clem" (and More in JGHAPE 11:3)
Now, and for the next twenty-nine days, Cambridge Journals is providing ungated access to volume 11:3 of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era. It includes "'The Notorious Mrs. Clem': Gender, Class, and Criminality in Gilded Age America,” by Wendy Gamber, Indiana History: