Uncovering Victorian Secrets

"Murder, Morality and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon takes a peek at an often overlooked part of western history. The Victorians were quite adept at keeping immoral or bad behavior a secret. Goeres-Gardner does a wonderful job of uncovering their secret past of abuse, neglect, and double-standards for women criminals.

Turning these pages will allow you to discover what drove normally proper Victorian women to murder.  You'll learn about women's trials, their all-male jury, and the horrid conditions they faced in all-male jails.

Goeres-Gardner has written a well-researched book whose real-life characters will stun and amaze you, and make you feel sorrow for some who have long passed away."

By Sherry Monahan, Author of The Wild West, Tombstone Treasure, and Taste of Tombstone.

Murder, Morality and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon begins with an overview of how women were treated in the nineteenth century when they came in conflict with the law. A list identifying every woman sent to Oregon State prisons between 1854 and 1920 is included.

There are six sections in the book and eighteen stories about individual women. Sections read as follows:

-Wives Fight Back
-In Defense of Honor
-Self Defense
-Prostitution and Violence
-Insanity is the Enemy
-Murder and Suicide

The individual stories are drawn from all over Oregon, beginning in 1854 and ending in 1900. Where possible, they are illustrated with photographs of the women.

Murder, Morality and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon is published by Caxton Press.
You may also find this book on Amazon (click to visit).

“Women occasionally tried to justify murder in other ways. Susie Owens, age 28, shot and killed her fiancĂ© in 1912 when he jilted her. She used a 349-caliber revolver to shoot Charles Celestino in the stomach. She maintained that he had led her astray, caused her divorce, and then refused to marry her. She was charged with first-degree murder but found guilty of manslaughter.”                  
Pg. 46

“According to the 1877 Portland Police Court Docket, the most common reason women were arrested in the 1870s included the following: being drunk and disorderly, fighting, using abusive and obscene language, keeping a bawdy house, conducting herself in an indecent manner, or selling liquor without a license.”          
Pg. 115

“During the late 1800s and early 1900s, Portland gained the reputation throughout the country as the “Mecca of vice and sin.” Prostitution, gambling, and liquor formed the cornerstones of Oregon’s criminal base. In fact, the fines, payoffs, and wages of sin paid for a major portion of the civic government operating in the city. Portland police invoked criminal sanctions against prostitutes during short-lived progressive reforms or if the individuals became a public nuisance.”                
Pg. 123

“Bradley, Sullivan, and Mahone arrived in Portland with their police escort on the steamship, The State, on February 26, 1882, to find nearly 1,000 men waiting on the dock to catch a glimpse of the notorious trio being escorted to the county jail.”
Pg. 127

“The stranger took the book, rolled it up, put it inside his coat pocket and staring into Lottie’s face, pulled out a 32-calibre Smith and Wesson revolver. “You should have bought the book,” he growled as he raised his arm and brought the butt of the gun down on her head.”                  

Murder, Morality, and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon was reviewed on September 12, 2009 by John Terry in his Sunday Oregonian column "Oregon's Trails" with the headline "Women, with few options, turned to violence." Terry also interviewed ex-Oregon Governor Barbara Roberts, a longtime advocate for women's rights. She agreed that "It was not uncommon for women who were menopausal to be put in the state mental institution and never come out again."

Terry describes the first case illustrated in Murder, Morality, and Madness: "Charity's saga opens a fascinating array of stories Goeres-Gardner extracted perusing dim newspaper microfilm and yellowing public records."

He goes on to say, "No pretty Victorian portraits here. Murder, Morality, and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon is not a look at an ideal 'imaginary woman' writers created to 'populate the Western landscape.' It is instead an arresting assembly of 'a few (who) rebelled with violence and murder.'"

John Terry, "Oregon Trails" columnist
September 12, 2009


Goeres-Gardner was interviewed by Ron Brown of the Medford TV station KDRV on October 2, 2009.
"The arrival of the first miners and settlers in the Oregon territory in the 19th century also brought the challenge of how to handle them."

"Goeres-Gardner's retelling of the women's situations is very engaging and moving. Regardless of the women or their circumstances, she tells their stories with empathy. The book is well-researched and includes considerable detail about each woman's case. The author credits newspaper articles as her primary source of research, along with court transcripts and statistics from the Oregon State Penitentiary prison registers housed at the Oregon State Archives. Detailed references and footnotes are included at the end of each chapter and photos of most of the women are included throughout the book.

There is no conclusion or final comments to bring greater meaning to the women's stories. Despite this drawback, along with a few minor typographic errors, the book provides an informative look at a little-known aspect of Northwest history. I would recommend this book for all libraries interested in collecting materials on women's history in the Pacific Northwest."

By Samantha Thompson-Franklin
Collection Development and Acquisitions Librarian at Lewis-Clark State College in Lewiston, ID
From the Idaho Librarian, Vol 59, No. 2 (2009)


Thoroughly accessible to readers of all backgrounds. June 16, 2009

"Murder, Morality and Madness: Women Criminals in Early Oregon is a true accounting of several fascinating case studies of Victorian women. These women were driven to kill, often under desperate circumstances, and when they were brought to 'justice' it was before all-male juries, and often they served time under insufferable conditions in all-male jails. As much an account of real-life tragedy as it is a solid secondary reference source, Murder, Morality and Madness is thoroughly accessible to readers of all backgrounds and especially recommended to anyone interested in writing fact or fiction about Oregon during this turbulent era of women's inequality."


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