Thursday, July 23, 2009

Carroll on Carlson on "The Crimes of Womanhood"

Tamar W. Carroll, Cornell University, has posted on H-Law her review of A. Cheree Carlson, The Crimes of Womanhood: Defining Femininity in a Court of Law (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2009). The review, entitled, "Gendered Rhetoric in the Victorian-era American Courtroom," commences:
In this interesting book, Carlson analyzes six highly publicized trials involving women defendants or principals in the late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century United States. Several of the cases remain well known today: the 1892 trial of Lizzie Andrew Borden, accused of murdering her father and stepmother; the multiple trials from 1840 to 1878 of Ann Trow Lohman, better known as the abortionist Madame Restell; and the 1925 Rhinelander v. Rhinelander case in which a wealthy white man sued his wife for fraud for failing to disclose her "colored" race prior to their marriage.

The other cases, those of Elizabeth Parsons Ware Packard (1864), Mary Harris (1865), and Mary Todd Lincoln (1875), all involved questions of mental competency. Packard and Lincoln were both committed by male guardians to psychiatric hospitals against their will; juries eventually ruled that they were not insane and released them from their confinement. Harris shot and killed the man who had led her to believe they were to be married and then abandoned her for another woman. Harris was found not guilty by the jury, who believed her lawyer's claim that Harris was suffering from insanity brought on by emotional distress and menstrual disorder at the time of the murder. These courtroom dramas unfolded as the legal and medical professions sought to establish professional legitimacy and battled for authority to define criminal insanity.
More here.