Husband-Killing in Chicago and the New Unwritten Law


New Chancellor Day Hall, 3644 Peel Street, Room 312, Montreal, QC, H3A 1W9, CA

Between 1866 and 1931, over 250 women in Chicago killed their partners, but all-male coroner’s juries, grand juries and petit juries exonerated most women under a "new unwritten law". Marianne Constable unearths the stories of some of these women, and explores the various possible meanings of this new unwritten law, among them self-defense, temporary insanity, and battered woman syndrome. Her research investigates the ways in which history and law privilege writing as sources, evidence and authority, and it analyzes the turn-of-the-century emergence of an account of law based on social, statistical, and psychological knowledge.  As a contribution to legal philosophy, the project shows how claims about a new unwritten law marked a period in which imperfect and incomplete understandings of law came to be articulated through the formal speech acts that are now often taken - mistakenly - to be wholly determinative of law.

Marianne Constable is Professor of Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley and author of The Law of the Other: The Mixed Jury and Changing Conceptions of Citizenship, Law and Knowledge (winner of the Law & Society Association J. Willard Hurst Prize in Legal History); Just Silences: The Limits and Possibilities of Modern Law; and Our Word is Our Bond: How Legal Speech Acts (finalist for two Socio-Legal Studies Association book prizes). Constable earned her B.A. in political science and philosophy, her JD, and her Ph.D. in Jurisprudence & Social Policy, from University of California, Berkeley.  As her publications and service in areas from sociology and political science to anthropology and history to literature and philosophy attest, she is committed to the study of law in its broadest sense. She was a member of the Institute for Advanced Study in 2005-6, taught a short course on law and language at Melbourne University in 2012, and was the Lenore Annenberg and Wallis Annenberg Fellow in Communication at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University in 2014-2015. She is the recipient of numerous fellowships and awards, including the James Boyd White Award from the Association for the Study of Law, Culture and the Humanities (LCH).

Contact Information

Professor Katherine Lemons
Department of History and Classical Studies
katherine.lemons [at]
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