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American State Trials Collection

The American State Trials Collection is an extraordinary body of state trials published from colonial times through the first quarter of the twentieth century. Even today, when publishing court decisions is much more common, state trials are rarely among those that are printed. The judicial opinions and trial transcripts found in this collection include cases on adultery, murder, libel, and rape. Included are several domestic homicide trials in which a wife is charged with poisoning her husband or as acting as an accessory in a murder or is a victim of murder. Many of these trials took place before there were female attorneys or women jurors. Some resulted in interesting verdicts, considering the period and the views men held about women.

In the case of The Commonwealth (Massachusetts) v. Fairchild, a Congregational minister was convicted of seduction in 1844 and banned from the church by an ecclesiastical court. In a subsequent civil trial, he was acquitted of adultery.11 In other trials, wives were acquitted of charges brought against them. In Commonwealth (Massachusetts) v. Kinney, 1840, “Hannah Kinney was acquitted of the charge of murdering her husband by arsenic poison.” The jury took only three minutes of deliberation to reach its decision.12

Books written about such trials or newspaper articles reporting the events of a trial as they unfolded show how highly publicized some of them were. Such complementary materials will be found not in the Law Library but in other Library of Congress collections, such as the General Collections or the collections of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division and the Serial and Government Publications Division.


Catalogue of the Library of the Law School of Harvard University. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Law School, 1909. This catalog is an alphabetical listing of items available in 1909 in the Harvard Law School. It is one of the few indexes published during the early twentieth century and is a good source for finding trials and other legal items published during the nineteenth century and held in the Rare Book Collection of the Law Library of Congress or other libraries.

Cohen, Morris L. Bibliography of Early American Law. Buffalo, N.Y.: William S. Hein & Co., 1998 (KF1.C58 1998). This bibliography is excellent for determining the types of materials available for research and where, including the Library of Congress, to find them. Cohen's chapters on trials provide helpful access points to the American State Trials Collection.

Marvin, J. G. Legal Bibliography or a Thesaurus of American, English, Irish, and Scotch Law Books together with Some Continental Treatises. Philadelphia: T. & J. W. Johnson, 1847. An alphabetical listing by title or author of works available at the time of its publication includes some annotated entries.

Soule, Charles Carroll. The Lawyer's Reference Manual. Boston: Soule and Bugbee, 1883. A subject index of law book and court report citations, the manual includes some entries that pertain to women, such as “Divorce,” “Divorce and Matrimonial Causes,” “Dower,” and “Husband and Wife.”

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