Document Type



University of Colorado Law Review




The received wisdom, among feminists and others, is that historically the criminal justice system tolerated male violence against women. This article dramatically revises feminist understanding of the legal history of public responses to intimate homicide by showing that, in both the eastern and the western United States, men accused of killing their intimates often received stern punishment, including the death penalty, whereas women charged with similar crimes were treated leniently. Although no formal "battered woman's defense" existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s, courts and juries implicitly recognized one--and even extended it to abandoned women who killed their unfaithful partners. In contrast, when men were accused of intimate murder, the provocation doctrine and other defenses were applied narrowly, and men were held to higher standards of self-control. Paternalistic efforts to curb male abuse of women did not go uncontested; indeed, competing norms contributed to a deplorable failure to prevent the occurrence and escalation of intimate violence. Nevertheless, the research presented here undercuts the common view that, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, a hegemonic gender ideology tolerant of extreme violence against women controlled public responses to intimate homicide.