Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis

A well-researched and readable recounting of the 1892 murder of Freda Ward by her ex-fiancee, Alice Mitchell. The two girls were planning on running away and getting married, with Alice assuming the role of husband and dressing up as a man to get a job to support Freda. Their plan was foiled by Freda’s sister, Ada, who suspects that she’s about to run away and marry a man. Their lines of communication are cut off, and Freda returns her engagement ring that’s been inscribed “From A to F”. Alice decides that she must kill Freda because she can’t have her, and stalks her when she returns to town, running up to her and slicing her throat with the razor she stole from her father. Coe does an excellent job recreating the atmosphere of the trial, showing the bias of one newspaper versus another, and detailing the sexist portrayal of women in the courtroom (weak and faint-y and insane). She dives into the main underlying issue, that this courtroom is dealing with the struggle to become modern – women usually have no place there but in this case they were packing the seats, the judge continually reminded the women that he could banish them; the struggle for white man to continue to retain his dominance in the modern world when there were women chomping at the bit to take some of their responsibilities (see Alice Mitchell) or blacks asserting their economic independence (see the section on lynching that took place while Alice was in jail– white retribution for blacks trying to set up their own grocery store… and Ida B. Wells pens articles lambasting the events). Alice’s “defects” are trotted out one by one, her tomboyishness, her nosebleeds (called “vicarious menstruations” by one of the idiot doctors). Naturally, the five white male doctors declare Alice insane, since to think that you can have same-sex marriage was considered completely irrational in those days. She’s locked away for life in a sanitarium and it’s suspected that she takes her own life a few years later, although cause of death is the mysterious “consumption”.