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Saving Jeannace June Freeman: Capital Punishment and the Transformation of Homophobia in Oregon, 1961-1964

Monday, March 23, 2015
4:00 AM
2239 Lane Hall

Presented by IRWG's Lesbian-Gay-Research Initiative (LGQRI)

In 1961, Jeannace June Freeman, a nineteen-year-old, white, butch lesbian became the first woman sentenced to death in Oregon. Together with her lover, Gertrude Nunez Jackson, Freeman murdered Jackson’s two young children. Surprisingly, though few doubted Freeman’s guilt, the public believed the court had sentenced her unjustly. Oregonians barraged the governor’s office with letters on Freeman’s behalf, voted to overturn the state’s death penalty, and compelled the governor to override her death sentence. This case thus provides a striking exception to criminologists’, legal scholars’, and historians’ arguments about the bias against gender-transgressing female criminals.

This lecture will explore the reasons the public found Freeman so sympathetic—from the race of her victims, to her history of sexual abuse—and suggest how the movement to abolish capital punishment at mid-century impacted Americans’ sexual values.

Presented by IRWG's Lesbian-Gay-Research Initiative (LGQRI)

Lauren Gutterman, Women's Studies, Michigan Society of Fellows