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Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
January 2020
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Book description

Bringing together the most current research on the relationship between crime and gender in the West between 1600 and 1914, this authoritative volume places female criminality within its everyday context. It reveals how their socio-economic and cultural contexts provided women with 'agency' against a range of European backdrops, despite a fundamentally patriarchal criminal justice system, and includes in-depth analysis of original sources to show how changing living standards, employment, schooling and welfare arrangements had a direct impact on the quality of life of working class women, their risk of becoming involved in crime, and the likelihood of being prosecuted for it. Rather than treating women's criminality as always exceptional, this study draws out the similarities between female and male criminality, demonstrating how an understanding of specific cultural and socio-economic contexts is essential to explain female criminality, both why their criminal patterns changed, and how their crimes were represented by contemporaries.


'A welcome contribution to the historiography of female criminality, and the influence that gender played in European criminal justice systems. It brings together some of the foremost scholars in the field and provides both depth and breadth. Broader analyses of space and place are complemented by closer examinations of policy and representation.'

Heather Shore - Leeds Beckett University

'This stimulating volume questions common assumptions about the qualities and quantities of female criminality. The astonishing array of female recidivists, women who used the law of pragmatic reasons, urban-dwellers who gained independence but also precarity, and transgressors of feminine norms who ended up in workhouses, lunatic asylums, and refuges are brought to the fore in all their variety and multiple meanings.'

Katherine Crawford - Vanderbilt University, Nashville

‘This volume of collected essays sets out to reexamine the intersections of gender and criminality while challenging dominant assumptions about women’s passivity, innocence, and victimhood … Recommended.’

J. Werner Source: Choice

‘… most valuable contributions is the bibliography which will no doubt prove an important resource for students and scholars alike. The editors, Manon van der Heijden in particular, have done a very good job situating the debates in terms of modern scholarship on women’s roles in the labour force and society. It is another well-placed and necessary attack on simplistic applications of the ideology of 'separate spheres' as a way to 'explain' women who commit crimes. This is very useful for those studying gender and women.’

Karen A. Macfarlane Source: H-Soz-Kult

‘… Women’s Criminality in Europe, 1600-1914 adds ably to a growing literature …’

Russ Immarigeon Source: Rutgers: Criminal Law and Criminal Justice Books

‘Scholars of women and crime, imprisonment and reoffending, newspaper reporting, and the multiple factors that influenced these matters will find much of interest and value.’

Katherine D. Watson Source: The Journal of Interdisciplinary History

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  • 2 - Explaining Crime and Gender in Europe between 1600 and 1900
    pp 26-46


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