Get access

“What Daughters, what Wives, what Mothers, Think You, They are?” Gender and the Transformation of Executions in the United States


  • Annulla Linders

  • Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Cincinnati. Email contact: An earlier version of this paper was presented at the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Boston, MA, in 2010. The research was made possible by funding from the Taft Research Center and the Kunz Center for Social Research, University of Cincinnati.
  • North Star June 22, 1849.


The transformation from public to private executions is generally understood as a consequence of the rationalization of authority in conjunction with growing class tensions and the emergence of bourgeois sentimentality. What is missing from this analysis is the role gender played. The exclusion of women from the execution site captures a more general tension around womanhood in the nineteenth century, but that tension was expressed differently depending on women's class and race locations. Using newspaper coverage of executions as my primary data source, I show that the interpretive challenges posed by women at the execution site varied by the social positions they occupied.