Laura D. Fair

Week 5, Meeting 1

Introduction to the trial of Laura D. Fair
What the sources say

Read the Official Report of the Trial of Laura D. Fair for the Murder of Alex P. Crittenden, free via Google Books, complete testimony of Laura D. Fair, pages 99-131.
“THE FAIR-CRITTENDEN TRAGEDY.: History of the Homicide for which Mrs. Laura D. Fair is now on Trial in San Francisco. THE HOMICIDE. THE PRISONER’S HISTORY. ANTECEDENTS OF MR. CRITTENDEN. THE TRIAL,” New York Times (1857-1922) [New York, N.Y] 08 Apr 1871: 6.

In-class Activity:
Discussion of Laura’s testimony, including the questions she was asked and how she was characterized, and newspaper coverage of her ‘history’.

Week 5, Meeting 2

Medical testimony on Laura’s behalf.

The testimony of Jane Morris, nurse, pp 57-63.
The testimony of B.F. Lyford, physician and surgeon, pp. 78-90.
The testimony of John Trask, physician, pp. 90-99.
The Fair-Crittenden Case,” New York Times (1857-1922) [New York, N.Y] 15 Apr 1871: 4.

Take notes (and bring them to class) commenting  on what strikes you as interesting about the medical testimony of these individuals. How are they characterizing her? How do you account for the Times‘ portrayal of the defense? We will discuss this in class.


Week 6, Meeting 1

Victorian Ladies and Hysterical Women
Cult of True Womanhood
The Pressures of a Modernizing World

Blood on Her Hands, Chapter 5, pp 84-106.
Laura Briggs, “The Race of Hysteria: ‘Overcivilization’ and the ‘Savage’ Woman in Late Nineteenth-Century Obstetrics and Gynecology,” American Quarterly, Vol. 52. No. 2 (Jun., 2000), pp 246-273.

In-class Activity:
Discuss the Cult of Victorian Womanhood and the subsequent medicalization of women and their bodies.


Week 6, Meeting 2

Women in the West
Women and Labor in a Western town

C. Elizabeth Raymond, “I’m Afraid We Will Lose All We Have Made: Women’s Lives in a Nineteenth-Century Mining Town” in Comstock Women: The Making Of A Mining Community, pp 3-16.
Elizabeth Jameson, “Women as Workers, Women as Civilizers: True Womanhood in the American West,” Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, Vol. 7, No. 3, Women on the Western Frontier (1984), pp. 1-8.


Please write 200-300 words about how beliefs about women’s physical nature, moral superiority, or honor influenced how they were portrayed at trial. What anxieties or beliefs do you think these discussions illuminate? Use evidence from the trial to help support your argument.


Week 7, Meeting 1

Intimate Homicide and the Unwritten Law of the Nineteenth Century
Changing Women’s roles in the 1870s and in the Cold War (discussion)

Carolyn B. Ramsey, “Intimate Homicide: Gender and Crime Control, 1880-1920,” University of  Colorado Law Review 2006; 77: 101–91.
Robert M. Ireland, “Frenzied and Fallen Females: Women and Sexual Dishonor in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” Journal of Women’s History, Vol 3, No. 3, Winter 1992, pp 95-117.

In-class Activity:
Discuss the debate over the Unwritten Rule in the Nineteenth Century. Were women given leniency? Prepare to discuss your thoughts on whether certain women were given more latitude with their behavior. We’ll also discuss the role of women’s movements in the coverage of the trial.


Week 7, Meeting 2

Laura D. Fair in Popular Culture
Women’s Movements and Laura Fair

Listen to Crime Classics – The Incredible Trial of Laura D. Fair , circa 1953-54
Bryant Morey French, “Mark Twain, Laura D. Fair, and the New York Criminal Courts,” American Quarterly, Vol. 16, No. 4, A Mark Twain Issue (Winter 1964), pp 545-561.

Please take notes (and bring them to class) and reflect on how the Laura Fair case represents issues either of fear and anxiety or beliefs about the women’s movement in the nineteenth century. How does this movement reflect the changes in society?

Last updated: May 1, 2013 at 19:54 pm