Executions of Women in the United States: Exploratory Research Using Digital Methods


igital methodologies are valuable for helping to narrow voluminous potential subjects of historic research into a scalable endeavor. In an effort to understand American cultural responses to crimes by women and children in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, I hoped to identify female offendors who were not pardoned for their crimes. To do so, I used the database, The Executions in the United States,1 for initial exploratory analysis using various digital methods. The database, collected by M. Watt Espy and John Ortiz Smykla, contains information on over 15,000 government-sanctioned executions in the United States between 1608 and 2002. It was made available through the Inter-University Consortium for Political and Social Research. "The Espy File", as it has become known, contains an entry for each individual executed and the circumstances surrounding the crime for which the person was convicted. Variables include age, race, name, sex, and occupation of the offender, state, jurisdiction, date, method of execution, and the crime for which the offender was executed.

This project applies data visualization and querying techniques (including Google APIs and PHP/MySql) to this data to help identify patterns in state-sanctioned executions of women. By using this database for exploratory research, broad questions regarding the volume, types, timing, and geography of capital cases involving women were answered. Out of over 15,000 records, only 365 cases involved women. My larger research focuses on how gender norms were used for or against women to either prove or provide "reasonable doubt" during the course of their trials. By using this database for my initial research, I obtained a better understanding of the number, types and locations of cases where women were not acquitted or pardoned.

Results indicate surprising peaks, valleys, and geographic distribution in executions of women. Additionally, a collection of viable cases have been identified by name and location to help ignite further research on the details of each. The results of this project are contained in the pages that follow. To read this site in a linear fashion, please follow either the navigation buttons at the bottom of each page or use the top navigation buttons from left to right.