Capital Punishment, Gender and Ethnicity in Mid-Twentieth-Century Quebec

Donald Fyson, Université Laval

In March 1935, Tommasina Teolis was executed in Montreal for her part in organizing the murder of her husband, along with two men convicted of carrying out the deed. All three were members of Montreal's Italian community. Teolis' death is relatively well-known, mainly because the hanging was botched, leading to her decapitation and ensuring her place in most popular histories of capital punishment in Canada. The case has also been briefly discussed by historians and criminologists studying spousal murder by women. Existing studies, however, have paid little or no attention to the ethnic dimension of the Teolis affair, even though she was the only woman executed in post-Confederation Quebec who was of neither French nor English descent. This paper uses this case, along with those of seven other Quebec women (both francophone and anglophone) sentenced to death from the mid-1920s to the early 1950s, to discuss the interplay of gender and ethnicity in the history of capital punishment in mid-twentieth-century Quebec and Canada. It compares the judicial and press treatment of these cases, including the differing reactions of the French- and English-language press. It also examines the involvement of both women and men in campaigns to commute the death sentences, and their appeals to both ethnicity and religion. The paper is based on ample primary documentation concerning the affairs, and situates them within the broader history of capital punishment in Quebec, Canada, the United States, and Britain.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 210. Law, Incarceration and Punishment