The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West

The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West

The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West

The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West

Synopsis

On November 3, 1870, on a San Francisco ferry, Laura Fair shot a bullet into the heart of her married lover, A. P. Crittenden. Throughout her two murder trials, Fair's lawyers, supported by expert testimony from physicians, claimed that the shooting was the result of temporary insanity caused by a severely painful menstrual cycle. The first jury disregarded such testimony, choosing instead to focus on Fair's disreputable character. In the second trial, however, an effective defense built on contemporary medical beliefs and gendered stereotypes led to a verdict that shocked Americans across the country. In this rousing history, Carole Haber probes changing ideas about morality and immorality, masculinity and femininity, love and marriage, health and disease, and mental illness to show that all these concepts were reinvented in the Victorian West.
Haber's book examines the era's most controversial issues, including suffrage, the gendered courts, women's physiology, and free love. This notorious story enriches our understanding of Victorian society, opening the door to a discussion about the ways in which reputation, especially female reputation, is shaped.

Excerpt

On November 3, 1870, four-time married, twice-divorced, twice-widowed, thirty-three-year-old Laura Fair of San Francisco lurked in the shadows on the San Francisco–Oakland ferry, the El Capitan. Dressed in a veil and dark cloak covering much of her body, she nervously examined the faces of the passengers, most of whom had just arrived in Oakland on the Overland train and had then boarded the ferry for the short ride to San Francisco. Moving hurriedly among the crowd, she frantically searched for her married, fifty-four-year-old lover, Alexander Parker Crittenden. Crittenden, she knew, had planned to meet his wife, Clara, and three of their children as they debarked from the train and then accompany them on the ferry ride to San Francisco. Clara’s return to California had once again caused Laura to doubt the devotion of her long-time paramour. Over the course of their very public seven-year relationship that repeatedly moved between San Francisco and Virginia City, Nevada, and even crisscrossed the country, Crittenden continually swore to her that he no longer loved his spouse of more than thirty years. Having promised Laura that Clara would never again step foot in San Francisco, he had pledged that he would obtain an Indiana divorce and then introduce her to society as his adored, and highly respectable, wife. She would, he asserted, finally be able to rid herself of the rumors of the past and be accepted as a true lady.

As she ran through the decks of the ferry, Laura was convinced that the key to her future lay in observing Crittenden as he greeted Clara as she debarked from the train. Would she see a man who was only playing the role of the dutiful husband, or would she view a warm and contented husband who, regardless of years of promises, had never had any intention of leaving his wife? After losing sight of Crittenden among the many travelers, Laura finally discovered him seated on the outside deck of the . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.