When I requested 18 Tiny Deaths, it was this sentence in the description that caught my attention:
"The fascinating story of the forgotten woman who pioneered forensic science."
I'd never heard of Frances Glessner Lee, but one of my reading objectives is to read more nonfiction and more biographies of women. The idea of a woman having pioneered forensic science was an irresistible bonus to a fan of mysteries and police procedurals.
Frances Glessner was born in 1878 to a family of great wealth and influence. She and her brother were home schooled by private tutors, receiving a wide-ranging education significantly beyond what a public school could offer. They were also encouraged to be children and to appreciate the outdoors, music, and arts and crafts in ways outside of academics. Although her brother went to Harvard, women were not admitted to those "hallowed" halls and Frances did not go to college. While she may have been brilliant and accomplished (more so than most college educated men), she personally felt the lack of formal education.
It is a thorough biography; however, since Frances did not become interested in what was termed medicolegal pathology until the latter portion of her life, it is in the last half of the book that her efforts to transform medical legal medicine into a unique division of medicine is presented. Inspired by her friend and mentor George Magrath, Frances used her wealth and influence to improve the system.
"She persisted" genuinely applies to Frances' efforts to revolutionize the ways sudden or suspicious deaths were examined, to replace the ancient coroner system with medical examiners, and to train police to preserve crime scenes and become intently observant.
Previously much of what can be found about Frances Glessner Lee has to do with her dioramas, the nutshell models--and they are important. But Bruce Goldfarb has brought to light all of what the woman accomplished. While the nutshell models are crucial, what impressed me most was the money, energy, time, and effort Frances put into her attempts to end a corrupt coroner system and replace it with trained medical examiners and to educate crime scene investigators (patrolmen and detectives) on how to observe and preserve a crime scene.
A compelling look into the life of the woman who is responsible for scientific approaches to crime investigation. A remarkable book about a remarkable woman--highly recommended for those interested in history, crime, and forensics.
Extensive primary and secondary sources.
A look at the Nutshells.
Nonfiction/Biography. Feb. 4, 2020. Print length: 336 pages.