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This compelling study of the American public's response to the fate of accused murderer Hattie Woolsteen uses this legal case to examine the complexities of gender history and societal fears about the changing roles of women during the Victorian era.
In October of 1887, a young woman named Hattie Woolsteen was accused of murdering her married lover, Los Angeles dentist Charles Harlan. The subsequent trial captivated the public as few incidents had done before. The idea of a female murderer was particularly disturbing in 19th-century America, and the public quickly labeled her a fiend and a "she-devil." But despite the overwhelming evidence against the accused, Hattie Woolsteen was not only acquitted of the charge, but emerged as the victim in this sordid drama. As the public grappled with the details of Hattie's alleged crime, she became a symbol of female victimization and gender inequality—as well as an unlikely champion of women's rights.
This book provides the fascinating and lurid details of the Hattie Woolsteen murder case within the context of 19th-century American social history, allowing readers to view this event in historical perspective. Its chapters examine the various factors that influenced public opinion about the case and its outcome, including Victorian attitudes about gender roles and women's place in American society as well as sexuality and crime, common concerns about the societal consequences of rapid urbanization, the power of the Victorian-era press in shaping public opinion, and the subjective nature of the criminal justice system in that time period.
- Provides a solid introduction to women's/gender history that explains the nuances of shifting attitudes regarding gender roles and women's place in American society at the end of the 19th century
- Enables an understanding of 19th-century anxieties about rapid urbanization and the attendant perceived breakdown of community as well as how law enforcement of the period—then in its infancy—was subject to political influence and societal expectations
- Underscores the role of the press in shaping public attitudes about community values and ideals, documenting how the news during the Victorian era was big business and objectivity was not a priority—not unlike today's media
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"With meticulous research in the popular press of the day, this book well illuminates the gendered nature of justice in the late nineteenth-century American West. The phenomenon of gendered justice, of course, has hardly gone away and the book is most timely; the criminal justice system continues to be affected by gender, race, and class, while the media shapes greatly how we explore the intersection of crime and cultural expectations. But beyond its explorations of the nineteenth-century justice system, Anzilotti's book is also a rollicking tale, sure to please a wide range of readers."
"She-Devil—more than a murder case history—situates and decodes a complex, contentious, and violent Los Angeles in the 1880s. From sources disparate as popular speculation, press hyperbole, factual forensics, and broad historical reading, Cara Anzilotti shapes an engrossing narrative delivering a progressive understanding of gender-role identity and ideology set against a cultural scene of ambitious if merciless women, ruthless libertines and their joint offspring: murder, arson, retribution, and transgressions of every stripe. Anzilotti's stories and messages from the past produce powerful reading for today."
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