The period 1870–1958 was revolutionary in the lives of women. Society’s shifting perceptions of women and their role were apparent in the courtroom. Women Who Kill Men analyzes eighteen sensational cases of women on trial for murder in this period to identify the intersections of media, law, and gender in California.
The fascinating details of these murder trials, documented in court records and embellished newspaper coverage, mirrored the changing public image of women. 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 sympathy of the jury. Gender mattered. And though the norms shifted over time, the press, attorneys, and juries were all informed by contemporary gender stereotypes.
Gordon Morris Bakken is a professor of history at California State University, Fullerton. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including Practicing Law in Frontier California (Nebraska, 2006) and Mining Law of 1872: Past, Politics, and Prospects.
Brenda Farrington is a lecturer in the history department at Chapman University. She has coauthored or coedited several books with Gordon Morris Bakken, including Law in the West and Encyclopedia of Women in the American West.
Introduction: The Feminine Side of Women on Trial
1. Mirror, Mirror on the Wall, Who Is the Sanest of Them All?: The Insanity Defense in Court and in the Press
2. Good Riddance: Justifiable Homicides of Enemy Deviants
3. Toward the New Woman: Feminine Wiles on Trial
4. The Haves and the Have Nots: Women on Trial during the Great Depression
5. War Women of the 1940s: Evolutionary Women in Revolutionary Times
6. Celebrity on Trial: Tinseltown Tarnished