Public Lecture: Chicago-Husband Killing and the New Unwritten Rule
Time: 6:00 PM - 7:00 PM
Professor Marianne Constable, University of Berkeley, California
Time: 6.00pm - 7.00pm (refreshments from 5.30pm)
Date: Thursday 19 July 2012
The Melbourne Law School presents with Criminology, within the School of Social and Political Sciences:
‘Chicago-Husband Killing and the New Unwritten Law’
By Professor Marianne Constable, University of California, Berkeley
Chaired by Dr Ann Genovese, Melbourne Law School
Emma Simpson, in 1919, shot her husband in a courtroom proceeding regarding alimony payments and declared that the new unwritten law would save her. Meanwhile Chicago newspapers between 1912 and 1922 decry the “march of liberated gunwomen” from the courtroom and suggest that Chicago needs to be saved from the new unwritten law. But what exactly is the new unwritten law?
In this lecture, Professor Marianne Constable discusses her work on the “new unwritten law” which was said to exist in Chicago in the 1910s and 1920s leading to the exoneration of most wives who killed their husbands. Through her analysis of the hundreds of cases during this time, she traces the stories of particular women and demonstrates the breadth of practices covered by the “new unwritten law”. In a period in which women were struggling for the formal rights of citizenship, these stories tell of situations involving rich and poor women, illiterate immigrants and society matrons, committed social advocates and shyster attorneys. They tell of insanity, self-defense, abuse and betrayal, as these were understood in a city whose legal institutions were busting at the seams. And they suggest that the new unwritten law was difficult to pin down, referring to different things, from the official law of self-defense as applied to married women, to something like a “battered woman’s syndrome” before its time, to the female analogue of the male “old unwritten law” (or provocation or honor defense), and to what we now call jury nullification.
Professor Constable uses the tale of the now-obsolete phenomenon of the new unwritten law to draw attention to the silences and incompleteness of legal and historical records, showing that law – and legal history – consist not so much of authoritative writings but of events, in which justice may be found and hidden and lost and found again.
Biography: Professor Marianne Constable is a pre-eminent rhetorician and socio-legal scholar at the University of California, Berkeley. Her interdisciplinary research on law interrogates the relation between law, justice, language and silence and challenges established approaches to conceptualising and studying socio-legal issues. She is the author of Just Silences: The Limits and Possibilities of Modern Law (Princeton University Press, 2005) and The Law of the Other: The Mixed Jury and Changes in Conceptions of Citizenship, Law and Knowledge (University of Chicago Press, 1994), winner of the Law and Society Association’s J. Willard Hurst Prize in Legal History.
Room G08, Ground Floor
Melbourne Law School 185 Pelham Street Carlton VIC 3053
Associate Professor Peter Rush, Melbourne Law School
03 8344 4759
Jenny O'Connell, email@example.com, 8344 6938
Monday 16 July 2012
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