Monholland, Cathy Sherill
Master of Arts, Rice University, May (1989)
The crime of infanticide plagued England throughout the nineteenth century, but by the 1860s it seemed to experts and laymen alike that incidences of the crime had reached crisis proportions. The publicity that newspapers gave to the problem sparked public concern; such publicity brought the crime increasingly to the attention not only of middle-class readers but also of medical, penal, judicial, and government officials. To determine whether a crisis of infanticide actually occurred in Victorian England, it is necessary to examine several areas of Victorian history–gender roles and the legal, economic, and social inequities women faced. While a profile of murdering mothers can be drawn from secondary material, this examination of infanticide draws upon primary data from the criminal records of thirty women and two men charged, tried, and convicted of the crime between 1856 and 1878. Both primary and secondary research provides new insights into contemporary fears of the problem, illuminates those characteristics that many murdering mothers and fathers shared, illustrates public reaction to their crimes, trials, and sentences, and outlines the judicial process these women and men faced when they stood before the bar of Victorian justice.