San Francisco: Printed by the San Francisco Co-Operative Printing for Sumner Whitney & Co., 1871. Small 4to. 4, , 325, , xvii pp. The two portraits are in facsimile, otherwise COMPLETE. Some page numbers at top margin shaved; front blank with repaired tear; final page torn and backed. Inherent spotting or browning on account of the paper stock. Contemporary marbled boards, new calf spine and corners, new leather title label, lower leather label preserved, new pastedowns and endleaves, one pair of early endleaves preserved. Provenance: on every 50th page the initials A.W.M. are written in MS; the versos of the three leaves following the title-page are stamped [illegible] "Att'y at Law, San Francisco" with the name "Henry H. Reid" written in MS over the name of an early owner (presumably that of "A.W.M." who remains unidentified). For Henry H. Reid, see below. Item #3428
A GREAT RARITY OF CALIFORNIANA. THE SORDID 1870 TRIAL OF LAURA FAIR IS EASILY THE MOST FAMOUS OF THE EARLY MURDER TRIALS OF SAN FRANCISCO. EXTENDING 27 DAYS, THE TRIAL BECAME A NATIONAL SENSATION. The present volume was published privately, and contains the entire official court transcript, which delves into issues of gender, delayed or "retarded menstruation," female sexuality, and the female libido which -- it was argued -- produces insanity.
THE CASE: On the ferry from Oakland to San Francisco, a black-clad Laura Fair shot her married paramour Alex Crittenden in the heart, having learned that he had reconciled with his wife. Fair's defense argued that the shooting was the result of temporary insanity caused by severely painful menstrual cycles.
A number of San Francisco Suffragists attended the trial, arguing that "the concept of female hysteria was used to deny women their rights and keep them under the control of men. They helped frame the trial in gender terms. San Francisco's newspapers, the Chronicle and the Examiner, also played the gender card, though they criticized Fair as a man-hungry murderess who had seduced an upright citizen and destroyed his family. The papers played to the Victorian notion that the passion of women was potentially dangerous and destructive. [...] The defense team used the notion of the female malady in their efforts to exonerate Fair. Their theory was that she suffered maniacal attacks due to delayed menstruation during the year before the killing and was unconscious at the time of the shooting. [...] During the Victorian era mental illness in women was often linked to the menstrual cycle. The defense argued that if Fair intended to kill Crittenden, she would have done so in a more private setting. [...] The prosecution relied on other assumptions about gender, picturing women as dangerous sexual creatures subject to control only by moral constraints. To the state, Fair was a seductress who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted. In cross-examination, they destroyed one doctor's credibility and made the other admit that Fair's symptoms could be a result of sexual excess." (SOURCE: Holly Streeter, "The Sordid Trial of Laura D. Fair: Victorian Family Values" in: Gender and Legal History in America Papers, 1995 (MSS-049)
The jury ruled against Fair, and she was found guilty and sentenced to hang. The verdict was appealed and overturned. Appended is the complete five-year correspondence between Laura Fair and Crittenden, which was initially not admitted as evidence in the trial.
Rare in commerce: while our copy is lacking the frontispiece portraits, only THREE copies are traced on the market by Rare Book Hub since 1948: the Thomas Norris-Henry Plath copy (Parke Bernet October 20, 1959, lot 390); the copy offered by Peter Decker in 1961 and again in 1962; and the copy sold by John Howell in 1979 (Catalogue 50).
At some point our copy came into the possession of San Francisco attorney Henry H. Reid (born New York, 1845) who arrived in California in 1872 (see: Wellington C. Wolfe, Men of California 1900 to 1902, p. 118).
McDade, Murder, p. 291. Cowan I, p. 201. Cowan II, p. 201. See, i.a., Carole Haber, The Trials of Laura Fair: Sex, Murder, and Insanity in the Victorian West (The University of North Carolina, 2013), passim.