THE ROLE OF WOMEN IN THE 1857 DRED SCOTT CASE: THE STORIES OF IRENE EMERSON AND HARRIET, ELIZA, AND LIZZIE SCOTT

Open Access
Author:
Edgell, Caitlyn Marie
Area of Honors:
History
Degree:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Anne Carver Rose, Thesis Supervisor
  • Kathryn Elizabeth Salzer, Honors Advisor
Keywords:
  • Dred Scott
  • Supreme Court
  • Women
  • Harriet Scott
  • Irene Emerson
  • 1857
  • Civil War
  • Missouri
  • Taney
  • Lincoln
  • Slavery
  • Freedom
Abstract:
The 1857 Dred Scott v. John F.A. Sandford decision was the culmination of an eleven- year legal battle that began in the St. Louis Circuit Court. The court battle began on April 6, 1846, when Dred Scott and his wife, Harriet, both filed suit against their widowed owner, Irene Emerson, alleging trespass for assault and false imprisonment. Harriet’s case was immediately combined with her husband’s, meaning that the fate of his case would determine the futures of Harriet and the couple’s daughters, Eliza and Lizzie. Domesticity reigned as an ideology within the country, yet women were gaining some legal power, as demonstrated by Irene Emerson. While Irene was allowed to own property and be sued in court, she seems to have permitted male relatives, such as her brother, to act on her behalf. On the other hand, Harriet Scott had the right to file a suit before the court, but the combination of her suit with her husband’s, even if she was the impetus for the filing of the suit, further illuminates the limitation on the rights of women, both African American and white. In fact, the ownership of women and women’s property was both a legal and a social tradition. Contemporary scholarship primarily avoids discussing the importance of these women to the case, which I argue reflects the patriarchal tradition in law contemporaneous with the case and in ensuing research. While focusing on the men in the case presents the basic facts of the Scott case, it fails to discuss the limited role of women involved within the case and how their rights were curtailed, either forcibly or voluntarily, by those of the men around them. My research demonstrates the roles that the Scott women and Irene Emerson had in this landmark case and how these increasingly limited roles shifted the emphasis of the case from gender to race, citizenship, territorial mobility, and slavery.