Teaching and doing digital history.

An Exploration of Gender, Society, and Law in America

This fall, I’ll be working with Dr. Sharon Leon to finish my minor field on gender, law, and society in America. In the spirit of open scholarly communication, I thought it prudent to share my initial thoughts on this minor field, what I will be reading, and what I hope to accomplish.

I will be examining the public and private legal experiences of men, women, and children in the United States in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Building on the argument that the family was the center of private life in the nineteenth century, I am approaching this study from the position that the family was also frequently a site of public, and often violent, legal contention.1 I am interested specifically in how men and women interacted with the American legal system in these centuries, not only in regards to domestic law, but also in how social expectations rooted in gender norms and the family defined criminal behavior in general.2

In order to understand this complex history, I am making the methodological choice to use intersectionality as the basis of my study, which will allow me to focus on social and legal institutions in America using a gender/race/class lens. Concepts of criminality, deviance, and propriety have been constructed differently for men and women of different races, classes, and ethnicities. Thus, the boundaries of acceptable behavior have changed depending on ideals of proper manhood or womanhood and illuminate deeper anxieties in American society during this time. Crime, especially violent crime committed by women within the family or the domestic sphere, has inspired a range of complex cultural, social, and institutional responses that had a direct impact on power and gender relations in American history.

The responses to violent women, specifically, can tell us much about how all women were perceived with regard to actual and potential criminal behavior. As such, I plan to explore women as both agents and victims of the shifting philosophies of punishment and rehabilitation, including the changing ideologies of prison reformers and the state, and of the professionalization of psychiatry and social work. I also plan to examine approaches to common law and domestic violence as they were rooted in patriarchal control of the family, paying special attention to the prescribed roles of women and children. I’m hoping that by grounding my study in gender theory and the history of the family, I’ve organized my readings to provide a rich foundation upon which I may pursue my dissertation research.

Gender Theory & History

  • Levit & Verchick, Feminist Legal Theory: A Primer (NYU Press, 2006)
  • Judith Butler, Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, (Routledge, 2006)
  • Gerda Lerner, “Placing Women in History: Definitions and Challenges,” Feminist Studies, Vol. 3, No. 1/2 (Autumn, 1975), pp. 5-14
  • Gerda Lerner, “Reconceptualizing Differences Among Women,” Journal of Women’s History, Volume 1, Number 3, Winter 1990
  • Joan W. Scott, “Gender: A Useful Category of Historical Analysis,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 91, No. 5 (Dec., 1986), pp. 1053-1075
  • Joan W. Scott, Gender and the Politics of History, (Columbia, 1999)
  • Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America, (Oxford, 1985)
  • Patricia Hill Collins, Black Feminist Thought: Knowledge, Consciousness, and the Politics of Empowerment, (Routledge, 2000)
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, “African-American Women’s History and the Metalanguage of Race,” Signs, Vol. 17, No. 2 (Winter, 1992), 251-274
  • Barbara Melosh, Gender and American History since 1890 (Routledge, 1993)

Family & Sexuality

  • Sharon Ullman, Sex Seen: The Emergence of Modern Sexuality in America
  • Howard Chudacoff, The Age of the Bachelor: Creating an American Subculture
  • George Chauncy, Gay New York: Gender, Urban Culture and the Making of the Gay Male World, 1890-1940, (Basic, 1994)
  • Madelon Powers, Faces Along the Bar: Lore and Order in the Workingman’s Saloon, 1870-1920
  • Jessica L. Weiss, To Have and to Hold: Marriage, the Baby Boom and Social Change
  • Beth Bailey, Sex in the Heartland

Crime & Punishment in America

  • Lawrence M. Friedman, Crime and Punishment in American History, (Basic Books, 1993)
  • Edward Ayers, Vengeance & Justice: Crime and Punishment in the 19th-Century American South, (Oxford University Press, 1984)
  • Michel Foucault, Discipline & Punish, (Vintage, 1995)
  • Michel Foucault, Madness & Civilization: A History of Insanity in an Age of Reason, (Vintage, 1988)

Women & Their Rights

  • Joan Hoff, Law, Gender, and Injustice: A Legal History of U.S. Women, (NYU Press, 1994)
  • Nina Auerbach, The Woman and the Demon: The Life of a Victorian Myth, (Harvard, 1984)
  • Linda Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies: Women and the Obligations of Citizenship, (Hill & Wang, 1998)
  • Nancy Cott, “Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830-1934,” American Historical Review 103 (1998): 1440-1474
  • Barbara Young Welke, Recasting American Liberty: Gender, Race, Law, and the Railroad Revolution, 1865-1920 (Cambridge, 2001)

Crime Literature & Coverage

  • Karen Halttunen, Murder Most Foul: The Killer in the American Gothic Imagination, (Harvard, 1998)
  • Suzanne Lebsock, A Murder in Virginia: Southern Justice on Trial (WW Norton, 2004)
  • Michael Ayers Trotti, The Body in the Reservoir: Murder & Sensationalism in the Old South

Institutions I: Police, Courts, & Prisons

  • L. Mara Dodge, Whores and Thieves of the Worst Kind: A Study of Women, Crime and Prisons, 1835-2000, (Northern Illinois, 2006)
  • Cornelia Hughes Dayton, Women Before the Bar: Gender, Law, and Society in Connecticut, 1639-1789, (University of North Carolina Press, 1995)
  • Eric H. Monkkonen, Police in Urban America, 1860-1920, (Cambridge, 1981)
  • Michael Willrich, City of Courts: Socializing Justice in Progressive Era Chicago, (Cambridge, 2003)
  • Nicole Hahn Rafter, Partial Justice: Women, Prisons, and Social Control. 2d ed. (New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1990)
  • Estelle Freedman, Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930, (U Michigan Press, 1984)

Institutions II: Insanity & Asylums

  • Benjamin Reiss, Theaters of Madness: Insane Asylums & Nineteenth Century American Culture, (Chicago, 2008)
  • James W. Trent, Inventing the Feeble Mind: A History of Mental Retardation in the United States (UC Press, 1995)
  • Ian Dowbiggin, Keeping America Sane: Psychiatry and Eugenics in the United States and Canada, 1880-1940 (Cornell UP, 1997)
  • Nicole Hahn Rafter, Creating Born Criminals (U of Illinois Press, 1998)
  • Steven Noll, Feeble-mindedness in Our Midst: Institutions for the Mentally Retarded in the South, 1900-1940 (UNC Press, 1995)
  • Janet A. Tighe, “Francis Wharton and the Nineteenth-Century Insanity Defense: The Origins of a Reform Tradition,” The American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 27, No. 3 (Jul., 1983), pp. 223-253
  • Carole Haber, The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West, (UNC Press, 2013)

Identifying a Criminal & Expert Testimony

  • Simon Cole, Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting and Criminal Identification, (Harvard, 2001)
  • James Mohr, Doctors and the Law: Medical Jurisprudence in Nineteenth-Century America, (Johns Hopkins, 1993)
  • Charles E. Rosenberg, Trial of the Assassin Guiteau: Psychiatry and the Law in the Gilded Age (1968)

Domestic Law & Violence

  • Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth Century America, (U North Carolina Press, 1985)
  • Hendrik Hartog, “Lawyering, Husbands’ Rights, and ‘The Unwritten Law,’ in Nineteenth-Century America,” Journal of American History (1997)
  • Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, (Univ of Illinois Press, 1988)
  • Elaine Forman Crane, Witches, Wifebeaters, & Whores: Common Law and Common Folk in Early America, (Cornell University Press, 2011)
  • John Ruston Pagan, Anne Orthwood’s Bastard: Sex and Law in Early Virginia, (Oxford University Press, 2002)

Criminal Behavior & Construction of Deviance

  • Leslie Reagan, When Abortion was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and the Law, 1867-1973, (Berkeley, 1997)
  • Elaine Abelson, When Ladies Go A-Thieving: Middle Class Shoplifters in the Victorian Department Store, (Oxford, 1989)
  • Cheree Carlson, The Crimes of Womanhood: Defining Femininity in a Court of Law, (University of Illinois Press, 2008)
  • Kali N. Gross, Colored Amazons: Crime, Violence, and Black Women in the City of Brotherly Love, 1880-1910 (2006)
  • Philip Schwartz, Twice Condemned: Slaves and the Criminal Laws of Virginia, 1705-1865, (LSU Press, 1988)
  • Timothy J. Gilfoyle, A Pickpocket’s Tale: The Underworld of Nineteenth-Century New York, (WW Norton, 2006)

Homicide

  • Randolph Roth, American Homicide, (Harvard, 2009)
  • Lisa Duggan, Sapphic Slashers: Sex, Violence, and American Modernity, (Duke, 2001)
  • Jeffrey Adler, “’I Loved Joe, But I Had to Shoot Him’: Homicide by Women in Turn-of-the-Century Chicago,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2003
  • Michelle Oberman, “Understanding Infanticide in Context: Mothers Who Kill 1870-1930 and Today,” Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 2003
  • Wilma King, “’Mad’ Enough to Kill: Enslaved Women, Murder, and Southern Courts,” The Journal of African American History, Vol. 92, No. 1, Women, Slavery, and Historical Research (Winter, 2007), pp. 37-56
  • Robert M. Ireland, “The Libertine Must Die: Sexual Dishonor and the Unwritten Law in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” Journal of Social History, Vol. 23, No. 1 (Autumn, 1989), pp. 27-44

Juvenile Delinquency

  • Patricia Cline Cohen, “Unregulated Youth: Masculinity and Murder in the 1830s City,” Radical History Review 52 (1992): 33-52
  • Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters: Protecting and Policing Adolescent Female Sexuality in the United States, 1885-1920, (Univ North Carolina Press, 1995)
  • Joseph Hawes, Children in Urban Society: Juvenile Delinquency in Nineteenth-Century America, (Oxford, 1971)
  • Anne Knupfer, Reform and Resistance: Gender, Delinquency, and America’s First Juvenile Court (Routledge, 2001)

Capital Punishment

  • Stuart Banner, The Death Penalty: An American History, (Harvard, 2003)
  • Victor Streib, The Fairer Death: Executing Women in Ohio, (Ohio U Press, 2006)
  • Victor Streib, Death Penalty for Juveniles, (Indiana U Press, 1987)
  • Louis P. Masur, Rites of Execution: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of American Culture, 1776-1865, (Oxford University Press, 1991)
  • John D. Bessler, Death in the Dark: Midnight Executions in America, (Northeastern, 1998)
  • Annulla Linders, “The Execution Spectacle and State Legitimacy: The Changing Nature of the American Execution Audience, 1833-1937,” Law & Society Review, Vol. 36, No. 3 (2002), pp. 607-656

 


  1. See Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth Century America, (University of North Carolina Press, 1985), ix. Grossberg argued that the center of domestic relations in the nineteenth century consisted of a “complex and vital relationship between two primary spheres of experience: the family and the law.” []
  2. Barbara Melosh argued that the gendered discourse not only regulated the social behavior of men and women in sexuality, family, and work, but also became a way to maintain hierarchies of all kinds. “Gender describes a fundamental understanding of difference that organizes and produces other relationships of difference—of power and inequality.” Thus, I am applying these hierarchies to a spectrum of criminal behavior. Barbara Melosh, Gender and American History Since 1890 (Routledge, 1993), 5. []

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