Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Feminine hatchet blows?



In his closing argument in the 1893 trial of Lizzie Borden, attorney Hosea Knowlton had quite a task ahead of him. He had to convince a jury of men that the quiet, church-volunteering woman in front of them had slain her stepmother with a hatchet, laid in wait an hour or two, and then butchered her father the same way.

He told the jurors, “It is hard, it is hard, Mr. Foreman and gentlemen, to conceive that woman can be guilty of crime. But I am obliged to say…while we revere the sex, while we show our courtesies to them, they are human like unto us….If they lack in strength and coarseness and vigor, they make up for it in cunning, in dispatch, in celerity, in ferocity.”

He knew many people didn’t think a woman capable of wielding a hatchet with such power … so he made a funny argument. He claimed that the hatchet blows were feminine in nature.

Rose-water scented as well, perhaps?

Here’s what he said:

What sort of blows were they? Some struck here at an angle, badly aimed; some struck here in the neck, badly directed; some pattered on the top of the head and didn’t go through; some, where the skull would be weaker, went through. A great strong man would have taken a blow of that hatchet and made an end of it. The hand that held that weapon was not the hand of masculine strength. It was the hand of a person strongly only in hate and desire to kill.


He goes on to describe the strikes as “weak, puttering, indecisive, badly aimed, nerveless.”

I’m sure he only wished they might find a pink hatchet with her fingerprints on it.

. . .

2 comments:

Christine Verstraete said...

If they had even bothered to use that new-fangled fingerprint identification science, of course. Good points!

Erika M said...

Ah, but why use science when you can rely on gender stereotypes?! ha ha