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THE PIG FARMER'S DAUGHTER AND OTHER TALES OF AMERICAN JUSTICE by Mary Frances Berry

THE PIG FARMER'S DAUGHTER AND OTHER TALES OF AMERICAN JUSTICE

Episodes of Racism and Sexism in the Courts from 1865 to the Present

By Mary Frances Berry

Pub Date: April 16th, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-43611-1
Publisher: Knopf

What a curious and eclectic collection of class, gender, and race courtroom cases! Berry (The Politics of Parenthood: Child Care, Women’s Rights, and the Myth of the Good Mother, 1993, etc.), a history and law professor at the University of Pennsylvania, has delved into history since the Civil War and emerged with a treasure trove of vignettes and stories that say much about attitudes and America’s evolving judicial system. All the cases involve sex to one degree or another. Some are sad; some, sublime. A Tennessee man’s 1886 case, won after another man was found guilty of seducing his daughter, is reversed on appeal after the court notes that the girl had testified her lover had used a “condrum” that she had inspected and approved. Said the court, “She willingly trusted to its efficacy and wantonly yielded to its efficacy and the craving of passion.” Then there was the Michigan case in which a man’s seduction conviction was overturned after medical evidence was presented showing that having sex in a buggy was “simply improbable if not impossible.” Along the way Berry takes a look at the Lee Marvin so-called palimony case, the O.J. Simpson case, the Mike Tyson rape case, the William Kennedy Smith case, and others. But she is such a gentle writer that the material has a way of not calling undue attention to itself. Certainly, no one could accuse her of exploiting her subject matter. She is, in fact, so subdued, so understated, in approach that it is part of this volume’s strength. Although the collection could be used as propaganda against the American judicial system, Berry resists the temptation to gloat in hindsight at her findings. Her restraint will have won for her the anti-tabloid award of the year.