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HIST 3850 Lecture Notes - Aurore Gagnon, Essentialism, Sentenced

Course Code
HIST 3850
Patrick J Connor

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Professor was surprised by how much sympathy was displayed with the way in which the
Jackie Bates book was written.
When a mother commits the murder of her own child it creates great shock because it is
very unusual.
Mother who kills her own children is described as “unnatural” which is still viewed in this
way today.
Example: Andrea Yates (before 1964) “unnatural?”
Refer to ppt. for quote on how she is described as deranged and sick committing an
unnatural act. It is the MOST unnatural thing possible in the world for a mother to kill her
If a female murderer is unnatural what does this tell us about how society views people
today? What does a natural woman look like if existing? → passive, loving, sympathetic,
has a mystical bond with their child. These are very stereotypical yet very powerful in
Western culture. → this description is essentialist (necessary traits used to describe a natural
woman). This description is rejected by feminists and historians.
These roles are not biologically based and inevitable. It is socially constructed.
The Jackie Bates book is a lot more than just about a mother and her child.
1st Case
A village in Quebec called Ste. Philomene de Fortierville → 50 miles east of Quebec City
Refer to Aurore, the “Martyred Child” ppt. Slide
Aurore Gagnon
Born May 31st 1909
Died February 12th 1920
Father: Telesphore Gagnon
Mother: Marie-Anne Caron (died 1918)
Stepmother: Marie-Anne Houde
Infant mortality was not uncommon back then but this little girl was not an infant when
she died. She was passed early childhood, fell into a coma and died with good health.
Her death immediately raised questions in terms of the abuse she had suffered.
February 12th
Doctor was called to her death bed and found her in a coma covered in strange
Required an autopsy.
February 13th carried out by a friend specialist
He found 54 distinct wounds caused by blows to the child's body
Many superficial wounds were observed
Example: internal openings, black patch, openings on knees with puss, skin
deep wounds everywhere all over her legs in particular etc.
Believes these wounds could have been caused by a whip etc. →
coroner's observations.
Conclusion: she had succumb to the blood poisoning and exhaustion.
Wounds were not treated and got infected causing her to die.

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Parents arrested for mistreatment of their daughter.
Preliminary inquires: Father's was held February 24th-25th and Mother's was held
March 11th.
March 18th
Judge decided there were grounds to have them brought to trial for the
mistreatment of their daughter.
The father
37 years old
Had four children with his first wife
Aurore was the second child
His wife died on January 1918
He married a widow which was not unusual and became the step mother
What is weird is how the step mother had the same name as the first wife
1920 → 2 months after the death of Aurore
Prosecution presented their case first
She died due to physical abuse and neglect
Her abuse was an ongoing secret
State called a number of family and friends to get more information
Rumors about her abuse had become worrisome
The father and mother told a friend that they had beat her because she was a
bad kid so to speak.
They claimed to the court her injuries were from playing outside by throwing
around rocks and sticks.
Another person claimed saying that the girl had injuries at one point and the
step mother said that it was due to falling in the snow.
The judge was still pushing the matter believing it had to be abuse.
The doctor was dumbfounded by this little girl dying with such severe
When the doctor asked where the father was she said he was in the woods
and the doctor found this weird being that the girl was going to die in a few
Marie-Jeanne Gagnon was the older sister
Aurore was burned by having put her hands on the stove, the step mother
would pull her hair out, took her bed away. The older sister was told to stand
at the window to see if someone was coming when this abuse took place.
Why did she not speak earlier?
Defense tried to shake this sister's testimony but she stuck to it. There were a
dozen witnesses who had elaborated on this.
The Defense knew they had no chance by the end of the trial for the
Prosecution's case was way too strong.
The plea went from not guilty to not guilty for reason of insanity.
The step mother was actually pregnant at the time and the father said the wife
had become different since she became pregnant → more mean, stubborn
He stated she was a good woman when she was not pregnant but scary
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