This book traces the lived experiences of women lawbreakers in the state of Pennsylvania from 1820 to 1860 through the records of more than six thousand criminal court cases. By following these women from the perpetration of their crimes through the state's efforts to punish and reform them, Erica Rhodes Hayden places them at the center of their own stories.
Women constituted a small percentage of those tried in courtrooms and sentenced to prison terms during the nineteenth century, yet their experiences offer valuable insight into the era's criminal justice system. Hayden illuminates how criminal punishment and reform intersected with larger social issues of the time, including questions of race, class, and gender, and reveals how women prisoners actively influenced their situation despite class disparities. Hayden's focus on recovering the individual experiences of women in the criminal justice system across the state of Pennsylvania marks a significant shift from studies that focus on the structure and leadership of penal institutions and reform organizations in urban centers.
Troublesome Women advances our understanding of female crime and punishment in the antebellum period and challenges preconceived notions of nineteenth-century womanhood. Scholars of women's history and the history of crime and punishment, as well as those interested in Pennsylvania history, will benefit greatly from Hayden's thorough and fascinating research.