Date of Award
Master of Arts in History
First Reader/Committee Chair
The violent act of lynching has mostly been identified as a method of vigilante justice perpetrated against African American men. During the Reconstruction Era (1865-1877) in the south, these efforts of terror by violent mobs were employed to instill fear, to preserve an economy that had been fortified by a now-extinct slave industry, and to facilitate a white supremacist ideology. Initial lynching and data analyses have often seen scholars focus explicitly on male experiences. Women, however, were also victimized by this type of mob violence. African American women, White women, and Mexican women were lynched, but justification for such actions could not rely on the rote reasoning. For example, while validation of this violence against Black men often rested on the idea of defending the virtue of White women, what would be the rationale for lynchingWhite women? Statistics and scholarship on Indigenous or Native American women, as well as Asian women, are difficult to locate or perhaps even non-existent.
This thesis proposes to examine causal and contributing factors in the lynching of women. Specifically, this work will assess environments of racism, sexism, and classism attributed as causal factors. The presence of these factors is evidence of a commonality in the experiences of the women selected for this analysis. Additionally, this thesis will show that these factors, in combination with the contributing factor of dehumanization, demonstrate an overwhelming difference in the experiences of African American women. The denigration, as exampled in the violence perpetuated against Black women’s bodies, reveal a process of demonizing that began on-board slaver ships long before their arrival to this land.
The experiences of three women are assessed: Josefa Segovia, Peb Falls, and Laura Nelson, alongside her son L. D. Nelson. The argument is made that these women resided in environments conflated with racist, sexist, and classist convictions, as well as the contributing factor of dehumanization specifically associated with the lynching of Black women. Merging into a type of historical intersectionality, these factors exacerbated their existence, allowing for violent mobs to enact their unreasoned form of justice. Newspaper articles, journals, photographs, and even song lyrics and poetry are used to help foster an understanding of the circumstances under which these women existed.
This thesis emphasizes an inclusive focus on women who were victimized by vigilante violence, regardless of race. It is a search for a commonality in a study of violence against women, and an attempt to understand how specific social constructs became overlapping factors in this manner of vigilante justice; it will also reveal a marked difference in the experiences of Black women by scrutinizing the contributing factor of dehumanization.
Smith, Cecelia, "Causal and Contributing Factors in Lynching Women" (2022). Electronic Theses, Projects, and Dissertations. 1511.