Studies in Scarlet: Marriage and Sexuality in the U.S. & U.K., 1815-1914

Drawn from the Harvard Law School Library’s extensive trial collections, Studies in Scarlet features over 420 trial narratives involving the crimes and passions of both renowned and ordinary people.
Original caption: Her jealous lover dashed Sumner to the floor, and wild with rage, he flung the table lamp full at Helen's head. View Details.
Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections

The public's fascination with the human drama of the courtroom has a long history, and cases involving the relationships between men and women, within or outside the bonds of marriage, have long engaged the popular imagination.

A page from The Police News edition of the trial and condemnation of Frederick Baker​, 1867.
"The Alton Murder!" The Police News edition of the trial and condemnation of Frederick Baker​, 1867. View Details.
Harvard Law School Library

In the 18th and 19th centuries, published accounts of sensational trials provided the public with both entertainment and cautionary tales.

These trials are especially rich sources for the study of the history of women and gender relations in the 19th and early 20th centuries. For the legal, social, or gender historian, a popular trial account can reveal intriguing details about legal and courtroom practice and procedure, as well as the motivations, manners, and mores of another era.

The Studies in Scarlet collection, held by the Harvard Law School Library, includes American, British, and Irish cases from 1815 to 1914 involving domestic violence, bigamy, seduction, breach of promise to marry, child custody, rape, and murder.

A page from Fairburn's edition of the trial between Sir Jacob Astley, Bart., and Thomas Garth for criminal conversation with Astley's wife, 1827.
Fairburn's edition of the trial between Sir Jacob Astley, Bart., and Thomas Garth for criminal conversation with Astley's wife, 1827. View Details.
Harvard Law School Library

Included are a number of trials of the wealthy and renowned, such as:

  • ​an account of the adultery trial of Caroline, Queen Consort of George IV;
  • the sodomy trial of Oscar Wilde;
  • and the trial of Harry Thaw for the murder of Stanford White, a famous architect and Evelyn Nesbit Thaw's lover.

The larger part of the collection, however, consists of the stories of ordinary men and women thrust into the public eye when their marriages and love affairs went wrong, or their relationships did not conform to social standards.

Accessing These Materials

All Studies in Scarlet trial narratives are cataloged both collectively and individually in HOLLIS. They are also available via this digital collection.

Since the trials have been digitized, the Harvard Law School Library's Historical & Special Collections generally does not allow access to the originals. 

Contact

Harvard Law School Library Historical & Special Collections