Thursday, September 18, 2008

Old skool mugshots of women on the edge

I was at a book store the other day and found this pretty interesting book called "Forbrydersker og offentlige fruentimmere 1863-1919" which is basically 400 pages of police mugshots of women on the edge of society in Denmark a bit over a century ago. The book contains a short introduction about these women who turned to a life of crime which is then followed by tons of pages of police photos from the women's arrest. Most of them were arrested due to a then very different society with absolutely no safety net. Well, unfortunately that's still how it is in many places around the world. Some of the women were obviously genuine criminals but many of them were just trying to pull thru, and a hundred years ago that didn't mean pull thru in style - it was simply a matter of survival.

Under each mugshot is listed the reason for their being arrested and the sentence they were given. A lot of the women were arrested for theft (often food) or selling stolen goods. However, there's also quite a few who were sentenced due to sexual circumstances. One 17 y.o. girl was given a two month sentence for having had sex with her step-dad in 1889. The step-dad was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment! One woman was trying get her insurance money any way she could. She would report burglary and repeatedly tried to burn down her own house. Problem was just someone discovered the fire and put it out every time, haha.

I haven't read thru all of it yet but the probably most bizarre case was one woman who was sentenced to 4 years imprisonment because she had a incestuous relationship with her two adult sons!! We are not talking about a single incident that might have occurred under the influence of strong alcohol; This went on from the end of the 1880s and thru to 1906!! That's 16+ years!!! One of the sons was so retarded he wasn't able to work. When she was given the sentence in 1907 she was around 60 years old. I ought to have a stunned smiley here. Another tragic case was a women who successfully aborted her pregnancies five times but the sixth time she didn't succeed and so instead she strangled her kid!
It's a very... I was about to say "cool" book but it's not cool, it's a good book. Apart from the interesting part about their crimes it also gives you a rare chance of seeing what people (or at least women) looked like in those days. Ordinary people I mean. One reviewer mentioned that you don't see a single smile in the entire book. At the most you see someone with an expression that seems to be saying: "Yeah whatever!" But as interesting and fun as the book is I can't help feeling sorry for most of these women. Yeah sure, the woman who kept torching her own house is fun when you read about it but she probably didn't do it cos she was wild and crazy and listened to rock'n'roll but because she was down on her luck.

They didn't deserve to live bad lives but they did. So many people did in those days and today we can't even begin to fathom how poor people were or how miserable their circumstances were. No money, no showers, no education, not being able to read or write, no money for the doctor's, and medical help was pretty crappy anyway, no help in regards to v.d. (the book covers prostitutes as well), no one was on the dole cos there were no jobcentres. Last month I ran out of money about a week before payday because I bought too many damn video tapes and stuff and I couldn't buy food or anything so I had to rely on my pantry stock. I thought it was pretty tough and IT'S NOTHING compared to what those women went thru. So many people in my neck of the world complain about how terrible things are these days. My comment to them all is Fuck off, you know nothing! You have great lives compared to these poor souls 100 years ago.

I recommend the book very highly although it's a bit pricey retailing around $34 (which would probably have fed your entire family for a whole year back then). It's out on "Forlaget Palle Fogtdal" publishing (2008).

Above: Birthe Marie Olsen who was sentenced to life for having performed 5 abortions on herself and for strangling her baby when the 6th abortion didn't work out.