Academic journal article American Studies

PROOF OF GUILT: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America

Academic journal article American Studies

PROOF OF GUILT: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America

Article excerpt

PROOF OF GUILT: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America. By Kathleen A. Cairns. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. 2013.

As of January 2014, there were 3,070 people on death row, sixty-three of whom are women, and gendered analyses of capital punishment ask us to consider how gender scripts play a role in who is sentenced to death. In this regard, Kathleen Cairn's argument in Proof of Guilt is quite compelling. For Cairns, Barbara Graham is more than just an executed woman; she is a cultural icon. Therefore, her execution is a key event in the political and cultural history of capital punishment. In 1955, California executed 31-year-old Graham for her participation in the 1953 robbery and murder of Mabel Moynihan. Her trial and eventual execution in the gas chamber captivated the American public, and her death continued to galvanize death penalty opponents through the film I Want to Live! (1958). In Proof of Guilt, Kathleen Cairns asks why Graham was so captivating, and concludes that Graham's physical beauty and sexual persona made her a complicated figure.

Cairns locates Graham's story within a matrix of cultural events like film noir, Communism, shifting gender roles, and the changing role of the press in the law. In newspaper accounts, Graham is depicted alternatively as a femme fatale, a sexually indiscriminate user of men, and a victim of horrific abuse by an uncaring mother and unscrupulous men. By ending Graham's story halfway through the book, Cairns's form enacts her argument that Graham "lives" on after her death. Public opinion about Graham is shaped by gendered newspaper accounts and journalistic photography. …

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.