9. Hannah Mary Tabbs

9. Hannah Mary Tabbs

Update: 2022-07-253
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Lucy Worsley investigates the crimes of Victorian women from a contemporary, feminist perspective.

This time, Lucy explores the case of Hannah Mary Tabbs, who was very good at being very bad.

An African-American woman living in Philadelphia in the 1880s, Hannah Mary was arrested after the discovery of the headless, limbless torso of her lover, Wakefield Gaines.

With the help of Philadelphian historian Annie Anderson, Lucy discovers what life was like for African-American women living in the city only two decades after the end of slavery. Social reformers, keen to promote their interests, encouraged black women to adopt high moral standards of temperance, modesty, deference, and strict sexual mores.

But as Lucy discovers with Professor Kali Nicole Gross who has written a book about the case, Hannah Mary Tabbs was having none of this. She lived life on her own terms, blurring her identity, lying when it suited her and intimidating others to turn a blind eye to her affair with a man 10 years her junior.

We hear Hannah Mary’s own words as she tried to talk her way out of trouble by attempting to shift blame to the man co-accused of killing her lover.

To gain a contemporary perspective, Lucy and Kali ask how reliable the confessions extracted from black suspects by white police officers are, even now. To what extent is racial profiling relevant to this case? And what does this case say about the relationship between the black and white communities in the US?

And, we find out what really happened to Wakefield Gaines at the hands of Hannah Mary Tabbs.

Producer: Jane Greenwood
Readers: Moya Angela and Jonathan Keeble
Sound Design: Chris Maclean

A StoryHunter production for BBC Radio 4

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9. Hannah Mary Tabbs

9. Hannah Mary Tabbs

BBC Radio 4