23 April 2011

Suffrage is Bringing Woman Down from Her Pedestal (Battered Wife or Cold-Blooded Killer Part V)

Woman Slayer Facing Gallows: Though condemned to
hang July 28 for slaying her husband, Mrs. Cora Lou
Vinson, behind bars in Atlanta prison, is hopeful public
sentiment may save her from the gallows.
- Muskegon Chronicle, Michigan, 14 June 1922

And public sentiment was divided.

While Cora sat in the women's ward of Atlanta's "grim jail called the Tower," waiting for the results of her appeal, a debate raged outside as to whether or not a woman should be given the death penalty. News articles spoke of how Cora would be the first execution of a white woman "since before antebellum days."

There was a wonderful article written by Dudley A. Siddall that ran in several newspapers in June 1922. I'd love to share with you the entire piece, but it is just too long for a post. Here are some highlights:

Leading Suffrage Workers Declare There Must Be Equality Before Courts As Well As At the Polls
Now that women vote like men, should they pay the same penalty for crime as men? Even though the penalty is hanging?

Col. William Schley Howard, former member of congress who aided in prosecuting the case, said in an interview: "Women have demanded equal rights in business and politics. In every way they have indicated their desire to be treated as men. Why then should a woman -- solely on sex grounds -- be accorded any special privilege by a jury? The time has come when they should be treated like men before the bar of justice."

...If it is true that sentiment toward women is changing from a chivalrous to man-to-man attitude, defense lawyers in future woman murder trials may have to shift their tactics. The old sympathy pleas and sympathy stage setting will be relegated to the place of outworn things in legal practice.

Miss Eleanore Raoul, Atlanta, Ga. president Atlanta League of Women Voters: "Woman has passed through the age of dependents into an age which regards her as an intelligent being. Consequently there should no longer be a question as to whether she should be treated as a human being fully responsible for her acts. I believe we women are prepared to accept our responsibilities along with our privileges."

Ruth Hale, New York, president of the Lucy Stone League, which believes women should retain their maiden names after marriage: "If I were the woman in the Georgia case, I would insist on being hanged. As a citizen any woman must bear the same responsibilities as a man. It is wrong for her to expect even Georgian chivalry."

[To the contrary] Sheriff J. I. Lowry, Atlanta, Ga, charged with executing condemned prisoners in Fulton county: "A woman should not be hanged -- well, simply because a woman is a woman."
Another interesting aspect to this case involved the property of Cora's husband. Should she get it? Especially since this property was a point of contention between the two, and possibly a reason why she killed him? This was 50+ years before Son of Sam laws prohibiting a criminal from profiting from their crime.

Well, she got it. "Condemned, She Shares in Estate of Her Victim: Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, under sentence of death for the murder of her husband, W. D. Vinson, several months ago, was awarded a share in his estate in a decree handed down by Judge George L. Bell, in Fulton County Superior Court. Mrs. Vinson...was given the Vinson home and a share in other property..." (Dallas Morning News, Texas, 6 October 1922)

Later that month, the final ruling came (Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Texas, 21 October 1922):
Slayer of Husband Escapes Gallows
ATLANTA, Ga. Oct 21 -- Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson, convicted and sentenced to death for the murder of her husband here last March, today escaped the gallows when she appeared in superior court, was given an immediate new trial, pleaded guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In 1926, four years after Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson began her life term in the Georgia State Penitentiary, she requested a pardon or parole. The request was denied.

So ends the story of Mrs. Cora Lou Vinson and the murder of her husband. (Link takes you, dear reader, to the beginning of the series.) However, as we genealogists know, that does not end the story of the life of Cora Lou Jackson Tallen Vinson. In fact, it is only a portion of it.

I hope everyone has a fantastic Easter! After the weekend, I will share with you some genealogical particulars about Cora Lou. And unless a miracle comes my way in the next 48 hours, I will likely end that post with a plea for help. See you then!


Greta Koehl said...

Great series - I have really enjoyed it.

S. Lincecum said...

Thank-you, Greta!