Women and the Death Penalty in the United States, 1900-1998

By Kathleen A. O'Shea | Go to book overview

Preface

As of July 1998, there were forty-seven women on death row in the United States. Karla Faye Tucker (TX) and Judi Buenoano (FL) were both executed in 1998 and three women, in Arkansas, Illinois and Texas, were given the death penalty. This is the largest group of condemned women on death row at any one time in our history. No other "advanced" country, in time of peace, has had more.

Still, information on this phenomenon is scarce. In 1990, Professor Victor Streib, the most noted scholar currently studying women and the death penalty, indicated that the primary goal of his research was to "document each and every lawful American execution of a female offender since the earliest European settlement of this country." Due largely to his efforts, we now know a great deal more than we ever did. In his writings, Professor Streib ( 1990a) recognizes the work of Watt Espy ( The Espy File, 1987), who has documented executions in the United States since 1608, as a primary resource.

Poignantly, in her 1984 study Female Crime and Delinquency, Coramae Richey Mann included a section about women on death row in a chapter entitled "The Most Forgotten Female Offenders." While it is true that we hear of these women when they are executed as well as when their crimes outrage or offend certain segments of society, by and large we know little about women on death row. And we know even less about how the death penalty has been applied to and enacted upon women throughout our history.

So far, thirty-one states -- that is two thirds of the American jurisdictions that support the death penalty -- have legally executed women at some time in their history. As Streib points out ( 1990b), this would seem to indicate a rather broad acceptance of the practice.

Between 1899 and 1953 eight women were sent to the electric chair at Sing Sing located in Ossining, New York, and sometime between 1893 and 1996

-xi-

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