The Widows’ Might: Widowhood and Gender in Early British America by Vivian Bruce Conger. Published by New York University Press in 2009.
Find at HQ1058.5 .U5 C657 2009
Working at a law school, it’s hard for me to imagine a time when a widow was not supposed to hire a lawyer to represent her in proving her husband’s will and otherwise settling the estate. According to Conger, “hiring an attorney indicated that a widow was determined to win her case on the basis of the merits of the case rather than by relying on the goodness and sympathy of the court.” The colonial period was not an enjoyable time to be a widow—or to be a women for that matter, since they were looked upon as childlike and in need of male constraint. A woman alone was considered “ungoverned,” and a young widow who did not remarry was seen a threat to a well-ordered society.
The author describes many cases of widows in the colonial period, carefully reconstructing the economic and social challenges they faced in colonial society.
The Crimes of Womanhood: Defining Femininity in a Court of Law / A. Cheree Carlson. Published by the University of Illinois Press in 2009. Find at KF4758 .C368 2009
Feminist themes also permeate this discussion of the courtroom arguments used to defend or condemn women on trial in 19th to early 20th century America. Professor Carlson analyzes several well known trials to reveal how women’s violating social norms could lead to severe penalties. She examines the transcripts, newspaper articles, and other popular accounts and argues that the men in charge of these communication avenues were able to transform their own values and morals into believable narratives to persuade the court and the public of a woman’s guilt or innocence.
One example was Mary Todd Lincoln, who was judged at trial to be insane and sent to a mental institution at the behest of her son. Wanting her freedom, she was able to find help from one of the first women lawyers, Myra Bradwell. Although Bradwell was unable to practice law because of her gender, she was able to get a second hearing for Lincoln, who was eventually declared sane. Other trials include those of Lizzie Borden and the infamous Madame Restell. Attitudes towards abortion and its legality are also discussed.