Date of Award


Document Type

Dissertation - Restricted

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carla H. Hay

Second Advisor

William P. Leahy


While studies in all areas of women's history have multiplied in recent years, little, still, is known about the lives of women in the midwest, particularly criminal women. This study focuses on the involvement of women in crime, and their treatment in the criminal justice system of St. Paul from early statehood days until the onset of the Great Depression. The bulk of my research involved the manuscript court records of the District Court of Ramsey County housed in the Minnesota Historical Society. In addition, I referred to municipal court records, police arrest ledgers, criminal codes and newspaper accounts to discover the nature of female crime at the time, how it compared to male crime, and to female crime today. The character of women's crime changed during these years of tremendous social change through three wars, urbanization, Prohibition, and the growing emancipation of women. As the city grew, and women increasingly moved beyond the limits of hearth and home, female crime increased and became more "urban" in nature, characterized by greater trickery, premeditation and skill. Violent crime, however, typified as "masculine," decreased among female felons as the new century progressed. The available data on these criminal women revealed that, after 1910, there was less convergence between offenders and the general population of women in St. Paul. By 1920, a distinct "class" of female offenders emerged, characterized by more marital discord, less education, and a continuing reliance on low-paying jobs. Growing drug use and increased recidivism further distinguished criminal from noncriminal women. Men's crime rates and statistics, used for limited comparative purposes, revealed that they committed proportionately more crime than women in every decade studied, and significantly more violent crime. In addition, males were incarcerated in larger percentages than females in every category of crime. Other examples of paternalism and bias on the part of an all-male judiciary are noted, but balanced by evidences of judicial compassion, even enlightenment. Finally, in comparing female crime then and now, it is apparent that, while the nature of female crime remained largely the same, with women continuing to commit more property crime than any other types of offense, women's treatment in the criminal justice system changed over time. Incarceration rates have fallen since the turn-of-the-century. Today, more women are placed on probation and rehabilitated through educational and job-training programs.



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