skip navigation


Register for Latest Research

Stay Informed
Register with NCJRS to receive NCJRS's biweekly e-newsletter JUSTINFO and additional periodic emails from NCJRS and the NCJRS federal sponsors that highlight the latest research published or sponsored by the Office of Justice Programs.

NCJRS Abstract

The document referenced below is part of the NCJRS Virtual Library collection. To conduct further searches of the collection, visit the Virtual Library. See the Obtain Documents page for direction on how to access resources online, via mail, through interlibrary loans, or in a local library.


NCJ Number: 200176 Find in a Library
Title: Wife Murder in Chicago: 1910-1930
Journal: Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology  Volume:92  Issue:3/4  Dated:Spring/Summer 2002  Pages:739-790
Author(s): Cynthia Grant Bowman; Ben Altman
Date Published: 2002
Page Count: 52
Type: Historical Overview; Report (Study/Research)
Format: Article
Language: English
Country: United States of America
Annotation: This article examines the 391 cases of women intentionally killed by their husbands in Chicago between 1910 and 1930, with attention to what the data indicate about marital disruption, domestic violence, and the lives of women in early-20th-century America.
Abstract: The study was based on data from the Chicago Homicide database, a transcript of handwritten records kept by the Chicago Police Department. The study was limited to cases in which the victim was female and was married to the perpetrator. After classifying each case by race of victim, data were coded according to victim's age, murder weapon, motivation (if noted), alcohol use (if noted), murder-suicides, victims other than the wife, escapes, the disposition of the case, and change in these variables over time. One section of this report discusses the historical context in which the wife murders occurred, with a focus on events relevant to the marital disruption and violence. Brief attention is given to changes in the demography of Chicago; relevant events in the political, economic, and social history of the era; and transformations in the status of women, including the accessibility of divorce and inaccessibility of assistance for domestic violence. The report next presents the findings from the analysis of the 391 cases. Domestic violence that culminated in the murder of the wife was a serious problem in the early 20th century in Chicago, just as it is today. The underlying attitudes and motivations of offenders has apparently been similar across time, i.e., the intense desire to control their wives, possessiveness, and jealousy, combined with extreme dependence upon and ambivalence toward their wives, all of which apparently have been linked to the persistently high murder-suicide rates in this group. The extraordinary prevalence of wife murder in the Black community in the 1920's indicates that this problem cannot be analyzed as a whole; particular conditions in different communities, both ethnic and racial, must be considered. Between 1910 and 1930, wife murder was severely punished, but modern studies indicate that wife killing is typically the culmination of a history of domestic violence. Prior to the 1970's, police and prosecutors in the United States did not take domestic violence seriously. Had the wives of the early 20th century been served by a criminal justice system and social service agencies responsive to incidents of nonlethal domestic violence, many wife killings may have been prevented. 247 notes, 7 tables, and 4 figures
Main Term(s): Criminology
Index Term(s): Battered wives; Comparative analysis; Domestic assault; Family homicide; Female victims; Illinois; Offender profiles
Note: For other documents related to this study, see NCJ-200171-75 and NCJ-200177-82.
To cite this abstract, use the following link:

*A link to the full-text document is provided whenever possible. For documents not available online, a link to the publisher's website is provided. Tell us how you use the NCJRS Library and Abstracts Database - send us your feedback.