A Woman Among Men: The Influence of Gender Ideologies in the Trial of Mary Surratt
Dr. Jeanne Petit
In the United States, women receive the death penalty in significantly lower rates than men. From 1608 to the present, women have accounted for only 2.8 percent of the total number of executions in both the English colonies and the United States. Because of the low proportion of women executed, issues of gender can influence trials of women when the death penalty is a factor. Therefore, it is no shock that the trial of the first legally executed woman in the United States, Mary Surratt, became an entanglement of gender ideologies. Mary Surratt was pronounced guilty on June 30, 1865, for aiding in the assassination of President Lincoln, and she was later hung for her crimes. This research analyzes Mary Surratt’s trial transcripts and examines how the nineteenth-century gender ideologies of piety, feme covert, and domesticity were part of the trial’s dynamics. Both the prosecution and defense used interpretations of gender roles, albeit in different ways, to make their case for Mary Surratt’s innocence or guilt. By resorting to these ideologies, however, the lawyers failed to accurately portray Mary Surratt because of the embedded contradictions in their understanding of “true womanhood.”
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