Behind the Scenes; or, Nine Years at the Four Courts of Saint Louis
St. Louis: A. R. Fleming & Co., 1893.
St. Louis: A. R. Fleming & Co., 1893. First edition. Original publisher's cloth binding with gilt to spine and front board. Brown coated endpapers. A square, tight copy with just a bit of rubbing to extremities and light shelfwear to bottom edges of boards. Internally clean and unmarked, collating viii, 9-220: complete including frontis. The first book published by a policewoman in America, it is difficult to acquire in collectible condition.
Despite assumptions to the contrary, "women have served in organized law enforcement in the U.S. almost from the beginning. The first police departments in America were established in the 19th century, and in 1845 women began working as matrons in New York City jails" (Smith). The practice rapidly spread across the country, where police forces needed assistance in supervising female prisoners and dealing with the specific challenges faced by this population. Women's clubs -- particularly the American Female Moral Reform Society and the Women's Christian Temperance Union -- urged recognition for the widespread violence perpetrated on female prisoners and called for meaningful change. "It was these women's groups that fought for these distinctly female positions, demanding there was a need for women to take care of women...and they provided police departments with funds for paid matron positions until the government could be convinced of the necessity of having women in the police force" (Maiorano).
Louisa Harris, having served in the prisons and courts of Missouri for nearly a decade, became the first of these women to publish about her experience. The resulting narrative reflects an awareness of the social forces that often put women at a disadvantage, driving them toward arrests or recidivism. Domestic violence, poverty, and the stigma placed on sex work all do damage to women; and according to Harris, these women should not be treated as or placed with violent offenders when they could, with proper assistance, find safety or build more secure lives. This is the motivation for Harris' memoir. In the introduction she explains that while she hesitated to publish the book which might in some readers awaken a "morbid curiosity," she ultimately moved ahead because "I reasoned that if the world knew more about the unfortunate and their revolting experiences, together with the causes that promote misfortune, there might be more true sympathy exhibited...While I have from personal observation become familiar with so-called criminals, I have had the opportunity to learn many of the causes of the committal of crimes. The law seldom recognizes the palliating influences, but humanity should." Harris calls for reforming the handling of juvenile offenders, advocates for therapeutic programs for young women, and taps into a number of other systemic issues of concern within policing today. Near Fine (Item #5679)