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Women and Crime

CONTENT WARNING: Discussions of child abuse, sexual abuse, and domestic violence.

Literature and journalism of the nineteenth century reveals concerns around fragile femininity and women as victims of crimes. However, society was also fascinated by the 'unladylike' outrage of women criminals. In this seminar we will compare the treatment of female victims, correctional officers, criminals, and reformers to explore the relationship between crime and femininity.

Essential seminar reading:


Research the contribution of one of the following women involved in various aspects of crime in both primary and secondary sources.

Victims Police and Prison/Law Admin Criminals Reformers
Fanny Adams Margaret Dawson Charlotte Badger Mary Carpenter
Eliza Armstrong Lilian Barker Mary Butters Elizabeth Fry
Rachel Lee Cornelia Sorabji Jane Cakebread Caroline Norton
Annie Chapman Chrystal Macmillan Florence Maybrick  

Secondary reading:

  • Lucia Zedner, Women, Crime and Custody in Victorian England, chapter 1.
  • Alison Morton, 'The Female Crime: Gender, Class and Female Criminality in
    Victorian Representations of Poisoning' Midlands Historical Review (2021)
  • M. Feeley and D. Little, ‘The Vanishing Female: The Decline of Women in the Criminal Process, 1687-1912’, Law and Society Review, 25 (1991)

Seminar preparation questions:

  • Were these women constrained by their sex?
  • What was their impact on crime and society?
  • What do their lives say about the broader context of women and crime in the long nineteenth century?

Further reading:

J. Bohstedt, ‘Women in English Riots’, Past and Present, 120 (1988), 88-122
J. Beattie, ‘The Criminality of Women in the Eighteenth Century’, Journal of Social History, 8 (1975), pp. 80-116
J. Carter Wood, '“Mrs. Pace” and the ambiguous language of victimization', in Lisa Dresdner and Laurel S. Peterson, eds.(Re)Interpretations: the Shapes of Justice in Women's Experience
P. Cox, Gender, Justice and Welfare: Bad Girls in Britain, 1900-1950
Andrew Davies, ‘These Viragoes are No Less Cruel than the Lads: Young Women, Gangs and Violence in Late Victorian Manchester and Salford’, British Journal of Criminology, 39 (1999)
E. B. Freedman, ‘Their Sisters’ Keepers: Women’s Prison Reform in America, 1830-1930’, Feminist Studies, 2 (1974)
Ginger Frost, ‘She is but a Woman: Kitty Biron and the English Edwardian Criminal Justice System’, Gender and History, 16 (2004), pp. 538-60
Peter King, ‘Destitution, Desperation and Delinquency. Female Petitions to the London Refuge for the Destitute 1805-1830’, in A. Gestrich, S. King and L. Raphael, eds. Being Poor in Modern Europe: Institutions, Surveillance and Experiences (Peter Lang, 2006), pp.157-178.
Peter King, ‘Gender, Crime and Justice in Late Eighteenth and Early Nineteenth-Century England’, in M. Arnot and C. Usborne, eds. Gender and Crime in Modern Europe (London, UCL Press, 1999), pp. 44-74.
Peter King, ‘Female Offenders, Work and Lifecycle Change in Late Eighteenth Century London’, Continuity and Change, 11 (1996), pp. 61-90.
Philippa Levine, ‘Walking the Streets in a Way No Decent Woman Should: Women Police in World War I’, Journal of Modern History, 66 (1994), pp. 34-78
Anne Logan, ‘A Suitable Person for Suitable Cases: the Gendering of Juvenile Courts in England, c. 1910-1939’, Twentieth Century British History, 16 (2005)
Anne Logan, ‘In Search of Equal Citizenship: the Campaign for Women Magistrates in England and Wales, 1910-39’, Women’s History Review, 16 (2007)
Anne Logan, ‘Professionalism and the Impact of England’s First Women Justices, 1920-50’, Historical Journal, 49 (2006)
Anne Logan, Feminism and Criminal Justice (2008)
Andrew Mangham, Violent women and sensation fiction : crime, medicine and Victorian popular cultureG. Robb, ‘Women and White Collar Crime’, British Journal of Criminology, 46 (2006), pp. 1058-72
J. Sangster, ‘She is Hostile to our Ways: First Nations Girls Sentenced to the Ontario Training School for Girls, 1933-60’, Law and History Review, 20 (2003)