A Comparative Legal History of Sexual Violence and Coercion on the Nineteenth-Century Plains

Donna Rae Devlin Author
09/17/2020 Added
39 Plays


In 1887, Annie Sadilek Pavelka, prototype for Willa Cather’s novel, My Ántonia, experienced sexual assault in Red Cloud, Nebraska. In 1895, Daisy Lammey of rural Smith County, Kansas, faced sexual coercion and then the accusation of incest, a legal ploy used by the accused to escape punishment. Regrettably, most scholars have failed to acknowledge this type of violence on par with the clichéd violence associated with the nineteenth-century West, such as gun-slinging, saloon brawls, and armed robbery. Relative historiography also stops short of recognizing that women actively fought against crimes of a sexual nature by using the laws of their state and their local courts of law. Evidence of this exists in abundance within such courthouses of the Plains today, yet these legal files remain largely unseen and the histories unwritten, leaving the story of the American West incomplete. This presentation will expose the records of these courthouses as modern-day witnesses to the sexual violence and coercion of this rapidly developing region during the late-nineteenth century, expanding our knowledge of the developing legal systems of the West, and giving a voice to women forced to reckon with such violence.

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