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Lucy Lowe alias Ellis - Child Murder
Bedford 1876

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A case study for Key Stage 3, Britain 1750 - 1900 and GCSE History

This case study deals with the treatment of Lucy Lowe, also known as Lucy Ellis (born Lucy Riddy), who was convicted in 1876 of killing her infant child. Lucy was sentenced to death, although the jury had pleaded for this not to happen. She was reprieved, served a prison sentence then in 1886 was released into the care of her sister.

It deals with major issues surrounding the treatment of poor women in the 19th century:

  • The position of widows or women abandoned by their husbands
  • The treatment of the children of such women
  • The treatment of women who had babies outside marriage
  • Changes in attitude to the punishment of such women
Objectives:
  • To examine the situation that made women like Lucy Lowe likely to kill their new-born children. (history national curriculum, 2c)
  • To work out how typical was the situation and the behaviour of Lucy Lowe.
  • To see the extent to which the web site story of Lucy Lowe was based on the available evidence. (history curriculum 3b)
There are excellent records of Lucy Lowe showing how people felt about the case, including the written evidence of Lucy herself.

Here are the main questions that we want to think about:

The story of Lucy Lowe:
  • What exactly happened?
  • What was Lucy like as a person?
  • Does the evidence from during and after the trial prove that Lucy intended her baby to die?
19th century attitudes and circumstances:

  • In which ways does the life of Lucy Lowe show the problems faced by poor women during the 19th century?
  • What does the treatment of Lucy by the authorities show about 19th century attitudes to the crime of infant murder?

Activities