The Hypatia collection contains a broad range of materials relating to crime and its relationship with gender and sexuality.

In the section regarding prison life, studies on the society of women within this institution come in the forms of pamphlets, reviews and novels. All of the sources, except Female Life in Prison, are from the 20th century, but the breadth across the period is sufficient to allow for observation of change and consistency. Significantly, the collection includes many personal accounts which describe female experience from a more authentic, first-hand perspective, including stories of rape and abuse. Aside from studies of female inmates, these prison autobiographies are the most prevalent within the collection and, as within ‘So I Went to Prison’ by Edna O’Brien from 1938, tend to portray the imprisonment of women as the result of exploitation by the patriarchal system.

There are also sources that cover particular court cases, for example the ‘Moors murder trial’, which centres around the murders of five children by Ian Brady and Myra Hindley between 1963-65. It is the representation of Hindley as ‘the evillest woman in Britain’ that makes this case interesting when considering attitudes to female criminals specifically. Individuals such as Elvira Barney, Haigh and Christie (post-war serial killers) and Ethel Rosenberg are mentioned within the collection; the latter being executed, following conviction of espionage for the Soviet Union. The links between crime and politics are fascinating, making these sources invaluable when investigating a woman’s relationship to the State. Striking titles like ‘The Giant Book of Dangerous Women’ offer angles of the criminal sphere that have been much less common within historical research, as gender stereotypes are shattered. Such accounts require exploration if the complexities of how women operated within the criminal system, and their relationship to society, culture and politics are going to be unravelled further. 

Susanna Tufnell