Dangerous Cities: Crime, Gender, and Survival Strategies in Frankfurt am Main, 1600–1800

Thursday, January 7, 2016: 3:30 PM
Room M101 (Atlanta Marriott Marquis)
Jeannette Kamp, Leiden University
Dangerous Cities: Crime, Gender and Survival Strategies in Frankfurt am Main, 1600-1800

Questions related to changes in the proportion of female offenders are of central importance in the debates among historians of crime. There is a general agreement that the urban setting is a key factor in explaining “high” levels of female crime in the early modern period (Beattie 1978; Shoemaker 1991; Feeley 2010; Van der Heijden 2013). Women in the city are believed to have led a more independent and public life than women in the countryside. This was especially the case for the many migrant women that were working in domestic service and in the early industries. It is this same independence that is said to have made these women more vulnerable. They often lacked access to formal and informal social support networks and therefore suffered more in times of economic and social crises. By analysing crime as part of a broader makeshift economy, historians have argued that urban (migrant) women were therefore more susceptible to commit crime as a way to support themselves.

This paper will contribute to our understanding of the urban factor in female crime by comparing the criminal patterns of migrant and native women in Frankfurt am  Main. The paper examines what the court cases tell us about the ways these women were incorporated in and excluded from the urban community. How such networks – or the lack of them – influenced the chances of women coming into conflict with the law is also examined, as well as the likelihood that local women would rather be controlled within informal domestic or neighborhood networks in contrast to migrants. This paper thus contributes to our understanding of the relationship between gender, the lack of social support networks, and the effects of poverty on crime.

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