On the night of November 3, 1873, Laura D. Fair pulled a pepperbox pistol from her cloak and drilled a single bullet into the chest of Alexander Parker Crittenden. Crittenden died forty-eight hours later, after a painful struggle.
The two were lovers: Crittenden, a prominent lawyer and legislator, had taken Fair, a former actress, as his mistress. Crittenden frequently told Fair he’d divorce his wife and marry her. When it grew clear he never intended to keep his promise, Fair swore revenge.
The subsequent trial became a national sensation. It captured the fears of adulterous men everywhere, and drew the sympathy of women’s rights crusaders like Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Fair’s first trial resulted in a conviction, overturned on a technicality; her second ended in acquittal. Upon her release, she promised to lecture on the topic of morality. Although an angry mob of men prevented her from speaking, she remained defiant to the end. Her advice to wronged women was simple: instead of waiting for men to do the right thing, take matters into your own hands. ”[W]hen an American woman in justice avenges her outraged name,” she wrote, “the act will strike a terror to the hearts of sensualists and libertines.”