First Year

I have said this to a few people, but I will say it again — I feel like I have gone from freshman to senior in a matter of months! Not necessarily in how advanced my knowledge or practice is, but in learning the ropes of graduate school in general. This past year has gone by like a really long movie on fast forward. I’m not really done yet. I still have one more assignment and grading exams, but when I am done I think I will take a nap for about 2 days or so.

This first semester of graduate school has taught me about what I want to do and what I do not want to do. What I want to do is work in the public history field. After getting a glimpse of exhibit management last semester in Public History class and at the Montgomery Museum, I’m really looking forward to my internship(s) this summer. I like the fact that museum exhibits and digital history make history come alive and off the pages of books into reality. It’s nice to be able to see or touch what was once a part of ordinary life a hundred years ago. It’s also nice to take that object and combine it with other objects to create a story. Rather than tell history, you can display history. Being hands-on and interpreting a historical event or time period through objects has become very appealing to me. I used to see myself giving lectures and grading. Now, that is the last thing I want to do. I’m grateful for my experience as a teaching assistant because I did learn that is a career that is just not for me. What is important to me is to be happy with what I am doing because life is just too short to be miserable in any job.

Other than career choices, I feel like I’ve learned a lot about how history can be interpreted and just what is actual history. I have also learned how to do lots and lots of work in a short period of time! The classes I’ve taken, even if they were way out of my geographic comfort zone, did teach me a lot, but I’ve learned just as much from my classmates! One of the best things for me is being able to exchange our work and provide feedback. I like the different perspectives and opinions that make me think about a statement or a question in a different way. Probably in a way I would have never considered otherwise! I feel like I am still growing as a historian and there’s still much left for me to learn. But at least year one is down–only one more to go!



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Proposal Update

Happy to be done with the revision of my proposal! I reworded my argument and added a significant amount of new material to my historiography. I realized as I added a “Sex, Marriage, and Scandal” section to my bibliography just how much reading I still have to do. But I think that books and articles from that particular section will be fun to read Smilie: :)

I looked at William Paxton’s proposal as a reference. I liked the structure he used for his chapter outlines and bibliography. I referenced his proposal since his subject is close to mine. I’m sure more will change about my proposal in the Fall, but for now I am satisfied with it.

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Victorian SEX Scandal!

Now that I’ve got your attention….

“Sex scandal” was the buzzword that came out of my committee meeting this past Wednesday. I thought about Adelaide’s case as something unusual and weird, but not in terms of a sex scandal. Dr. Jones, Dr. Cline, and Dr. Mooney were all very excited about this project. It was nice meeting Dr. Mooney and discovering we have the same Anne Boleyn tattoo! She loaned me some books about Victorian culture and women. It was great getting everyone’s advice and perspectives on Adelaide’s case. Rather than include the medical and mesmerism part in my thesis, I was advised to drop it and focus more on the “sex scandal” aspect of it.

We discussed possible chapter titles, what I should be doing over the summer, types of media to look at (Punch cartoons and other illustrations), class perceptions and distinctions, what made Adelaide sympathetic, and what to do about getting sources located in the UK. The day of the meeting I received an email from the National Archives stating that my request to copy Adelaide’s and George Dyson’s depositions would exceed £500! That’s over $800! Also, the ILL was unable to locate the George Dyson book anywhere in the U.S. Luckily, Dr. Jones and Dr. Mooney have arranged for someone to copy the depositions at the National Archives this summer! I’m very grateful to Dr. Jones and Dr. Mooney for arranging that! Also to Jane and Ruth, who have never even met me, for making a stop at the National Archives!

I learned a lot at the committee meeting about where my project could go and how much potential it really has. It was very encouraging, and it was good to get some more perceptions of my thesis proposal. Melea sent me a few suggestions for books at the behest of Dr. Jones. So, I will be adding a new category to my bibliography: Sexuality and Scandal! The literature review portion of my thesis proposal is going to change quite a bit. I plan on following the model Dr. Jones suggested, which is to start with Victorian crime and narrow my way down to gender, class, and Adelaide Bartlett. Also should add deviant women and sexual deviance to that.

Next steps for the end of the semester:

  • Find sex scandal books suggested by Melea.
  • See if Cambridge can copy the George Dyson book.
  • Reorganize my thesis proposal to include chapter outlines, delete mesmerism, expand and change literature review based on the new-ish direction of my research, and highlight important sections for summer research in my bibliography.
  • Discuss a public history aspect of my thesis with Dr. Cline.
  • Read, read, read, read, read, and read some more.


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More Reading and a Committee!

I was starting to worry about forming a committee. Dr. Cline was on board when I asked him, but Dr. Ekirch was a bit hesitant. He told me that he was worried he would be of little help because his background is in American history and 18th century. I was disappointed, but respected his logic. So, I talked to Dr. Jones about it and Jennifer Mooney from the English Department will be on my committee! I’m excited because she specializes in Victorian literature! Yay! Looks like we will all be meeting together for the first time on Wednesday, and I’m really looking forward to everyone’s advice and suggestions!

Things I would like to discuss are:

  1. How to make my argument clearer and change my perspective in the introduction.
  2. What I should be doing over the summer and what should be done by the time I return again in the Fall.
  3. If I should pursue the mesmerism aspect of the court case (I really want to, but it might not be worth it).
  4. How to just write the proposal better in general.
  5. With Dr. Cline on my committee, I’d like to discuss how Adelaide’s case could have a public history aspect to it.
  6. I want to ask Dr. Mooney if there are any aspects of Victorian crime literature I should look into.

Excited! And kind of worried, too, but I think that’s normal…I hope.

This past week I’ve been reading secondary sources about Victorian social life in general and finding primary sources to add to my bibliography. Victorian London by Liza Picard has been helpful in understanding the context of the Adelaide Bartlett case. She discusses practically every aspect of Victorian London you could: social classes, health, food, religion, crime, death, women, education, clothing, homes and gardens, poverty, and amusements. Guess which chapters I read the most Smilie: ;) Next on the list is narrowing in on the latter nineteenth century, the New Woman, and marriage. Could a “New Woman” be married and still be a “New Woman?” That is the question!

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More Proposal Stuff

This past week I spoke with Dr. Jones in person and via email about my proposal draft. I also met with Bruce Pencek to have a sort of “library crash course.”

One of the things Dr. Jones and I discussed is comparing Adelaide’s case to other poisoning cases around the late nineteenth century. Originally, I planned to find other cases to compare how those women were discussed in their court records, deposition, and, if possible, in the press. Dr. Jones suggested I use examples from secondary sources of married women going to trial. This makes much more sense because my focus is on Adelaide’s case and how that offers a glimpse into Victorian culture. I probably don’t need to know too much about other poisoning cases besides the basics. We discussed how along with the marriage aspect of Adelaide’s case, I would like to delve into the mesmerism part as well. Mesmerism, or animal magnetism, seems to be a long lost art. I am interested in the linkage of Adelaide’s marriage and the theory of mesmerism to her trial.

Dr. Jones also gave me some chapter suggestions, which were really helpful. She suggested making one chapter about introducing Adelaide and the murder trial, then talking about messages of marriage, and finally how those messages shaped Adelaide’s image in the press and her trial. She also told me that if I wanted to add more in about Victorian medical science I would have to develop it more in my revision. I also need to revise my historiography to make it broader and inclusive of marriage and murder. So, for my revised proposal I plan to add chapters and build a better historiography. I also want to add more primary sources about Victorian marriage and mesmerism.

The “crash course” with Bruce was very helpful. He gave me information on how to navigate the library’s databases more successfully and some tricks to more efficient searching. There are abbreviations and words you can put in search engines that make the process easier! I highly recommend seeing Bruce if you are in a pickle trying to find sources. It was very helpful for me!

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Proposal Writing

One thing I learned about my project by writing the proposal draft is that I still do not know a lot of things. Most of those things are about Adelaide Bartlett, but also about writing a thesis proposal in general. It was difficult to do her story justice in the introduction, then proceed to explain how it was significant. I was especially concerned about how my own research and views into her case would be unique and stand out. At the same time, I was kind of surprised that I was nearly able to write her entire ordeal from memory from reading about it so much. Just writing the proposal helped organize my ideas and give me a perspective on what research I had done, what needs to be done, and how things stand right now. I referred to Billy Paxton’s proposal format since he had a similar subject to mine. I think it’s really helpful to have proposal drafts from previous years available to look at.

For the revised draft, I would like to have a tentative chapter outline and update primary sources. I did not include a chapter outline in the first draft because I wasn’t sure how to set them up. I’m hoping that after getting some feedback I’ll have a better idea on how to do that. I did not include primary sources in my bibliography that were inaccessible to me as of right now. I’m also hoping to include those in the next draft or at least have a better idea of what I will be able to access.


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Revised Focus Statement and Methodology

In my thesis proposal, I will argue that the trial of Adelaide Bartlett for the murder of her husband, Edwin Bartlett, shows how Victorian ideas of proper marital behavior influenced criminal investigations of accused female killers. By focusing on the trial of Adelaide Bartlett, my thesis will address the cultural context of gender, marriage, criminal investigations, and forensic evidence in Victorian England. I want to know how accused women, whether guilty or not, were treated by the press and court systems and what evidence was used against them in court. I want to study the trial and newspaper reports about the trial to understand how the prosecution built a case against Adelaide by using poison and mesmerism. The significance of this research is to show how the media treated accused female criminals, how the law decided guilt, and how Victorian culture defined normal behavior between married couples. These three points will help us to understand modern day definitions of sanity, guilt, and marital relations according to law and culture.

I want to examine Adelaide’s trial and the issues it brought to light through gender theory. I believe my work will situate itself into gender history, cultural history, legal history, and criminal justice history. I will interpret my sources with ideas of gender, culture, and law. Because my research deals with crime, I will need to use Foucault’s theories on crime and punishment to analyze the Victorian criminal justice system. The strongest part of my methodology will be conducting research through gender theory, because I want to understand how accused female killers were gendered. I see myself emerging as a gender historian, more specifically a gender historian of criminal justice. I want to apply theories of gender to the study of the criminal justice system in England in order for me and other historians to understand how criminals, crimes, and victims were gendered.

Undoubtedly, I will encounter some problems and limitations with this research. One limitation is simply not knowing if Adelaide Bartlett was guilty or innocent. Additionally, sources are limited documenting what became of Adelaide and her alleged lover, George Dyson, after the trial was over. Public feeling towards a certain individual standing trial for murder can vary and certainly there will always be those who will be certain of a defendant’s guilt or innocence. The trial itself and newspaper coverage will not necessarily determine how the readers felt about Adelaide, but will show where the sensationalism was in the coverage of her story. Aspects of the trial that are reported on by the press will show which aspects newspaper reporters felt would make their papers sell. As for gauging public reactions to Adelaide’s trial, the issues brought up at her trial, and her eventual acquittal, that part will be difficult to determine. Letters to the editor in the Times and other British newspapers may help determine how some individuals felt about Adelaide and the charges brought against her, but this certainly was not representative of everyone who followed her trial. One way to determine how the public treated an accused woman who was acquitted would be to find out what became of her after her trial. Exploring what happened to Adelaide Bartlett and George Dyson after the trial has its limitations. Records of them after 1886 are scarce, but I plan to use census records and death records accessed on to find out what became of Adelaide and George. This will also be limited as either of them could have changed their names or moved out of England. I do hope to find evidence that both of them lived happily ever after when the trial was over, but it is likely that neither of them had any peace after being accused of murder.

Secondary Readings this week: “Women Murderers in Victorian Britain” by Judith Knelman and “The earliest days of first aid” by John Pearn. That last article was useless. I thought, because it was medical article, it would help give a medical explanation for Edwin Bartlett’s death. Instead, the article only briefly alludes to Edwin’s death from chloroform poisoning, but nothing to help explain how it might have gotten there. Knelman’s article was much more helpful because she discusses how female killers were dehumanized by the Victorian press, especially when they killed children. Her research reiterates how female killers had a special gender that wasn’t quite masculine, but was not at all feminine.

As for Bertoti, I think it went well. There were some moments of unpreparedness, like who would introduce the speakers and assigning hotel rooms, but they were minor and easily fixed. I enjoyed spending time with Dr. Jacobs and talking with her and getting to know potential VT students. My favorite panel was the Southwest Virginia panel–for obvious reasons–and hearing and seeing the research and hard work of second and first year students was great! I see how this conference can benefit future historians, and for the most part I think it went smoothly.

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Article Methodology

My choice for an article methodology was “Psychology, Sexuality, and Social Control in Victorian England” by Elizabeth Fee. Restating her thesis and argument based on the model mentioned in Belcher’s article, Fee’s thesis statement is: Although the elite and working classes of Victorian England were larger and more visible than the middle class, nevertheless, the middle class defined sanity, sexual purity, and normal behavior because they wanted to differentiate themselves from the other “immoral” classes.

Her methodology is setting up Victorian psychology through the influence of the middle-class and Freudian theories and using it to discuss which behaviors were considered normal. She examines how the middle class viewed sexuality, criminal behavior, and insanity by using psychological sources from the time period. Fee uses psychological notions that defined normal behavior versus insane behavior based on published works from the time like the Journal of Mental Sciences. She begins by setting up the offending class systems: the aristocracy and the working classes. Fee then places the bourgeoisie within the context of those two classes and how the bourgeoisie defined themselves in relation to the wealthy and the poor. Fee shows how the law defined sanity and then she discusses female offenders, insane asylums, then finally ends with Freudian theories. Fee’s main method is to use Victorian psychology to show how female criminals, insanity, and legal interpretations were defined and how middle class values came to define proper and normal behavior for all social classes.

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Focus Statement

Although women killed, went to trial, and were executed in Victorian England, nevertheless, the trial of Adelaide Bartlett caused a sensation because of her social class and the method of poisoning her husband suffered. By focusing on the trial of Adelaide Bartlett, my thesis will address gender, murder, and fear. I want to know how accused women, whether guilty or not, were treated by the press and court systems. I want to study the language that was used about the accused and how investigations proceeded. The importance of this work is two-fold. I want to uncover how fear was gendered in Victorian society because it will help explain modern fears about death, gender roles, and murderers. A second important matter is to understand the criminal justice system of the past so we can understand the criminal justice system of the present

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Research over Break

I did a lot of reading this past week. A lot. Mostly about Adelaide Bartlett. Before break, I met with Dr. Jones and she suggested I focus on Adelaide’s case because there is quite a bit there. Indeed there is. She was accused of killing her husband with chloroform, but was found not guilty because the prosecution couldn’t prove how she administered the poison. It’s quite an interesting story and almost starts out like a bad joke: so a young French woman, middle-aged business man, and a Wesleyan minister walk into a bar…I suppose there’s a good joke in there somewhere, but I haven’t found it yet.

Readings this past week and last week as well: Victorian Murderesses: A True History of Thirteen Respectable French and English Women Accused of Unspeakable Crimes by Mary S. Hartman, “Adelaide Bartlett and the Pimlico Mystery” by Michael Farrell, “Psychology, Sexuality, and Social Control in Victorian England” by Elizabeth Fee, “Women Murderers in Victorian Britain” by Judith Knelman, “The sad story of George Hall: adultery, murder and the politics of mercy in mid-Victorian England” by Martin J. Wiener, Fear: A Cultural History by Joanna Bourke (started but not finished yet since it’s such a big book), Criminal Conversations: Victorian Crimes, Social Panic, and Moral Outrage by Judith Rowbotham and Kim Stevenson, and last, but certainly not least, The Trial of Adelaide Bartlett for Murder edited by Edward Beal.

Shew! I’m tired! And there’s still so much more!

Even though that is a lot of reading (and still, sadly, not enough), I don’t think I’m still really clear on exactly where I want my research to go. The Adelaide Bartlett murder case is mysterious because no one knows how her husband was poisoned. Basically, chloroform is a solvent and would have burned his throat and mouth if swallowed since the medical examiner found it in his stomach. All I can tell from news reports about that case and the trial book is that Adelaide was only let go on lack of forensic evidence, not because anyone believed her innocent. She did end up vanishing from public notice after the trial. Plus, the man accused with her, a Wesleyan minister named George Dyson, bought the chloroform. The charges against him were dropped when he said Adelaide asked him to buy the chemical. Interestingly, he also disappeared from public notice. So, there is all kinds of things with gender, guilt, and science going on there, but I’m pretty sure the conclusion to draw from it isn’t unique or something we don’t already know—women were assumed more guilty than men in murder trials. Maybe? I really don’t know. I would like to know how Edwin Bartlett swallowed a lethal dose of chloroform without burning his throat or mouth, though.

Adelaide Bartlett….a guilty face? You be the judge…









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