"With the intention of destroying her life": women, suicide, and the limits of respectability in St. Louis Missouri, 1875 to 1900
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] This case study examines sixty coroner's inquests conducted between 1875 and 1900, specifically, those in which St. Louis City Coroners rendered a verdict of suicide. Coroners' investigation records reveal far more than a cause of death, but also provide insight into women's family lives and living conditions. Coroners, as well as the relatives, friends, and neighbors of the deceased frequently sought to explain why these women committed suicide. Suicide can be used to better understand a larger cultural concept: respectability. St. Louis coroners based the depth of their death investigations upon whether or not they perceived a woman to be respectable or deviant. They conducted cursory investigations into the deaths of allegedly fallen women while often going to great lengths to determine an accurate cause of death for respectable women. The perceptions of St. Louis coroners reflected commonly-held attitudes regarding respectable womanhood in late nineteenth-century America. Although coroners believed that respectable and disreputable women committed suicide for very different reasons, regardless of their reputations, many women believed suicide to be their only option due to illness, failed relationships, conflicts with family members, or poverty. Their stories illuminate common conditions for women in the late nineteenth century, notably gender oppression, exemplified by expectations to conform to stringent standards of female respectability.
Access is limited to the campuses of the University of Missouri.