General observations on the files by social historian Sara Wajid

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General observations on the files by social historian Sara Wajid

 

  • There appears to be a high proportion of Irish women in these files. This chimes with what the Moving Here website says about Irish immigrants being disproportionately over-represented in English prisons in the 19th century (see Moving Here website)
  • Unsurprisingly, poverty is a very consistent theme
  • Although these are all crimes by women, the domestic crimes often feature brutal abusive men in the story somewhere, e.g. Elizabeth Rhodes, Ellen Harding, Lily Feely
  • Undiagnosed pre and post-natal depression could have been a factor in at least a few of the cases. Much is made of hormonal imbalances in the case of Elizabeth Rhodes
  • Surprisingly, issues such as failure of social welfare support services chime strongly with similar contemporary problems. A century later we're still battling with basic holes in the societal safety net for the most vulnerable in society: children of unsupported poor single mothers
  • Women who killed their own children seemed to confess almost immediately
  • None of the cases I read was anything to do with undiagnosed cot death
  • Edith Proctor stands out as being the most straightforwardly cruel with no extenuating circumstances, Dora Sadler a close second
  • Although there are doubts expressed in many of the cases about the mental stability of the women generally, none seemed to be suffering mental health problems as such - except possibly Dora Sadler and Edith Proctor
  • Of the cases I read, Dorothea Waddingham was the only woman actually hanged for her crime. Although others were sentenced to death they were reprieved or their sentences were subsequently commuted to life imprisonment
  • In some ways courts were more lenient then towards child killing but on the other hand less forgiving of other violent crime - Elizabeth Rhodes probably would not have been sent to gaol if convicted today
  • There are lurid descriptions of violence throughout the files