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2013 Master's Level Graduate Research Conference

Session I - Session II - Session III

"Some Unnatural Monster?": The Crime of Infanticide in Antebellum New York City, a Case Study

“‘Some Unnatural Monster?’: The Crime of Infanticide in Antebellum New York City, a Case Study,” is a micro-history of the case of Barbara Weidemeyer, a widowed mother indicted and prosecuted for the crime of infanticide in New York City in February of 1848. The study examines indictment records, coroner's inquests, and newspaper accounts of Weidemeyer's crime in an attempt to extract workingwomen’s voices, albeit filtered through every coroner, reporter, witness, and defense attorney. It reveals the evidence needed to successfully convict or acquit a woman of infanticide as well as what types of women were suspected of the crime and why the court prosecuted so few New York women for infanticide in the mid-nineteenth century. Moreover, Weidemeyer’s case reflects proscriptive ideals of motherhood and traces the societal interest in and reaction to the sensationalized crime of infanticide. As a result, we not only learn about the precarious nature of infanticide and its affect on working women’s lives, but also about the multifaceted significance of the crime as it was perceived across lines of class, gender, and ethnicity. Ultimately, Weidemeyer’s case, and the study of infanticide more broadly, offers a unique lens into the complex urban environment in mid-nineteenth century New York City, shedding light on the everyday lives of working women too often relegated to the margins of history; their experiences, their struggles, and the impact of their social and economic realities on their decisions, lifestyles, and reputations. This project thus illustrates the relationship between women, the law, and its everyday practice in antebellum New York.

Presenter: Marcela Micucci (Binghamton University) --
Topic: History I - Panel
Location: 219 Hartwell
Time: 2 pm (Session III)