Cairns, Kathleen A. 1946–
Cairns, Kathleen A. 1946–
Office—Department of History, California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, CA 93407. E-mail—[email protected]
Educator and historian. California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, lecturer in history.
Western Association of Women Historians, Western History Association.
Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2003.
The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison, University of Nebraska Press (Lincoln, NE), 2007.
Contributor to academic journals, including Montana: The Magazine of Western History and Western Legal History.
Kathleen A. Cairns is an academic and historian. Born on February 11, 1946, Cairns went on to complete a bachelor of arts degree and a master of arts degree from the California State University, Long Beach, in 1976 and 1989 respectively. She earned a Ph.D. in 1995 from the University of California, Davis. She eventually became a lecturer of history at San Luis Obispo's California Polytechnic State University. Cairns is a contributor to academic journals, including Montana: The Magazine of Western History and Western Legal History.
Cairns's first book, Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950, was published in 2003. The book is comprised of biographies of three female journalists: Ruth Finney, who was perhaps the first woman nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for her exposé on a utilities scandal; Charlotta Bass, who challenged the racial views of the Ku Klux Klan in her Los Angeles-based newspaper; and Agness Underwood, who became city editor of the Los Angeles Evening Herald for her crime reporting.
Cairns published her second book, The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison, in 2007. The book examines the court case of Nellie Madison, who was sentenced to death for allegedly killing her husband in 1934. Madison initially pleaded her innocence but later confessed that the abusive ways of her husband drove her to kill him in self-defense. Madison was portrayed in the media as a femme fatale, having a solid knowledge of guns and choosing not to discuss the details of the case outside of court. Her sentence was later commuted and altered the way courts looked at abused spouses.
John D. Bessler, writing in H-Net Reviews, found that unlike the events of the case, "the book is certainly no enigma. It is a well-written, true-crime tale that provides a glimpse into the inner workings of the California justice system in the last century." Bessler noted that "Cairns's extensive notes and bibliographic essay, which follow the book's fourteen chapters, document the author's dogged research and do a good job of putting Madison's case in a broader context. However, reference is omitted to some recent academic literature on women and the death penalty." Bessler concluded that The Enigma Woman "should be read by anyone who wants a peek at how the U.S. justice system treated female killers decades ago, before the recognition of the ‘battered woman’ defense." A contributor to the Atlantic Monthly observed that "Cairns tells her story with considerable sociological and psychological acuity." A contributor to Publishers Weekly remarked that Cairns "has done considerable research in this well-written true crime chronicle," but lamented that "what happened in Nellie's bedroom in 1934 still remains an enigma."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Atlantic Monthly, September, 2007, review of The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison, p. 130.
Choice, November, 2003, S.W. Whyte, review of Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950, p. 534.
Columbia Journalism Review, July 1, 2003, James Boylan, review of Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950, p. 57.
Publishers Weekly, March 19, 2007, review of The Enigma Woman, p. 58.
California Polytechnic State University, Department of History Web site, http://cla.calpoly.edu/hist/ (April 10, 2008), author profile.
H-Net Reviews Online,http://h-net.org/ (January, 2008), John D. Bessler, review of The Enigma Woman.