Four Case Studies of Incest in Rural Illinois, 1900-1920

Beverly A. Smith, Illinois State University

This study, analyzing four incest cases heard by the Illinois Supreme Court, will answer the following research questions: 1) Can today's causal theories be applied to incest cases a century old?; 2) Or do the surviving data about historic cases argue that incest has changed over time?; 3) Can certain aspects or factors "tip" families toward incest?; 4) What are those "tipping" factors in the early twentieth century?; 5) What do the four cases indicate about the nature of incest?; 6) Was the isolation, imposed by incest offenders today, also created by offenders in the early twentieth century?; 8) How much did society's public mores shape how its legal system handled incest? Census records for 1900, 1910, and 1920 provide demographic information. Newspaper accounts provide information on community attitudes toward incest and the families involved. Archival records of the Illinois Supreme Court, which include legal briefs, verbatim transcripts, and occasionally additional materials, allow reconstruction of certain family dynamics, such as alcoholism, separation or divorce, death, prior allegations or instances of abuse, criminal records, and behavioral dynamics.

(Return to Program Resources)

Updated 05/20/2006