Exhibtion Index  Credits   Bryn Mawr College Library    

Rebecca Peake
Trial of Mrs. Rebecca Peake: Indicted for the Murder of Ephraim Peake... Embracing the Evidence, Arguments of Counsel, Charge, and Sentence. Montpelier: E.P. Walton & Sons, 1836
Download the book as a pdf

Insanity is one of the few excuses the law – and normal society – allowed for the commission of capital crimes.  Like sexual transgression, insanity was specially (although not exclusively) the province of female criminals; in these accounts they suffer from "hysterical" illnesses peculiar to women.  Rebecca Peake murdered her stepson because she was dissatisfied with her husband's decision to turn the farm over to him.  Her lawyers defended her on the grounds of insanity, and the argument presented illuminates the "nature" of her sex: 'woman, "while reason holds her throne," is incapable of doing so foul a deed;…the soft and winning graces of the female sex hold no companionship with crime.  It is said that the deep, strong, endless, never dying principle of love, that rests and dwells in the female heart, worships only at the shrine of purity itself, and guards its fleshly temple from the obtrusion of every unhallowed thought or deed.'

        Back         Forward