BOOKS: "Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America"

A new book by Kathleen Cairns explores the intriguing story of Barbara Graham, who was executed for murder in California in 1955, and whose case became a touchstone in the ongoing debate over capital punishment. In Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, Cairns examines how different narratives portrayed Graham, with prosecutors describing her as mysterious and seductive, while some of the media emphasized Graham’s abusive and lonely childhood. The book also describes how Graham’s case became crucial to the death-penalty abolitionists of the time, as questions of guilt were used to raise awareness of the arbitrary and capricious nature of the death penalty.

Cairns is a lecturer in the Department of History at California Polytechnic State University. She has also written The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison (Nebraska, 2007) and Hard Time at Tehachapi: California’s First Women’s Prison.

Read a review of the book and a thorough look at Barbara Graham’s case from KCET-TV in Los Angeles.

(K. Cairns, “Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America,” University of Nebraska Press, April 2013; DPIC posted April 11, 2013). See Women and Books on the death penalty.