February 8th 1915 proved to be the start of a memorable sequence of events in the city of Toronto. Carrie Davies, an 18-year-old domestic servant working in the home of Charles Albert ‘Bert’ Massey, shot and killed her employer as he arrived home. She did not try to conceal her crime, as upon her arrest she immediately proclaimed her guilt. A coroner’s inquest found that Davies had “feloniously, wilfully, and of her malice aforethought kill and slay Charles Albert Massey.” The subsequent criminal trial found Davies not guilty of murdering her employer. How did this happen? In her confession, Davies maintained that she had shot and killed Massey because he had ruined her. Toronto at the turn of the century bathed in Victorian morals, upholding values of chivalry, duty, and virtue. The First World War only heightened these themes. The defense painted Davies as a woman who had been protecting herself, her values, and her virtue from the depravity of her male employer. For the most part, the prosecution could not challenge these claims. Davies’s case is remarkable for two reasons. First, her victim was a member of ‘the’ Massey family – a great-grandson of Hart Massey. Bert Massey had met his end at the hands of his domestic help because he had made improper advances on her, a scandalous story for any family. Second, was that Davies’s gender, race, and class all played a vital part in her acquittal. For Carrie Davies, and many other women who found themselves embroiled in legal matters in the in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, gender, race, and class were three vital factors in determining their guilt or innocence, especially in case that could result in capital punishment.
Legal cases represent a specific period in history as they “illuminate” the importance of intersectionality – the ways categories of gender, ethnicity or race, and class interact in specific situations. Joan Scott suggests that sometimes these categories cannot be analysed equally or with parity, as they are not rigid categories that can be equally transplanted from one situation to the next. Constructions of these categories in Canada, and in Toronto, resulted in a particular shaping of victimhood, as well as the resulting punishment of women. Interpretations of victimhood that are constructed or influenced by the categories are relayed through the rulings of judges and juries. Women in the early twentieth century were often represented as victims of patriarchal systems of injustice. Unfortunately, this was not a result of the ways women wanted to be perceived, but instead by the men who were responsible for their defence, prosecution, judgement, and sentencing. This concept is known as “chivalric justice.” Carolyn Strange’s definition of chivalric justice suggests that it was perpetuated by “female and male stereotypes by upholding the ideals of feminine frailty and masculine heroism,” which in turn “reaffirms the class and race privileges of men who wield the power to protect and option to pardon.” This concept is essential in understanding why Davies’s case ended in her acquittal. The coroner’s inquest proved that a crime had taken place. There was no doubt that Carrie had shot Massey – as there were several witnesses, and she herself had admitted it. On February 16th the jury in the coroner’s inquest came to the conclusion that “Charles A. Massey came to his death on February 8th as a result of a shot which the jury believed to have been fired by Carrie Davies, and that Carrie Davies did, therefore, feloniously and with malice aforethought, kill and slay the said C.A. Massey.” The evidence presented at the criminal trial was meant to prove Davies’s motive and intent to kill her employer. Instead, when the trial concluded on February 27th , Davies had been found not guilty.
The events of February 8th 1915 are clear and unattested. At 6:15pm Massey, aged 34, arrived home. As he reached the doorway of his house at 169 Walmer Road, Davies shot at him. He ran back down the walkway, when Davies shot at him again – this time killing him. Ernest Pelletier, the newspaper boy who had just collected money from Massey for the next month’s delivery, witnessed the crime. Davies was arrested shortly after, and made a full confession of the crime, including the circumstances leading up to the shooting. Her questioning with Sergeant Kennedy shortly thereafter provided the motive behind the murder. Davies stated:
“[Massey] took advantage of me yesterday and [I] thought he was going to do the same today. He caught me on Sunday afternoon and I ran upstairs and then he called me to make his bed and I obeyed and as soon as I went into his bedroom he said ‘this is a nice bed’ and then he caught me and I pushed him aside and ran upstairs and locked my door while I dressed and then went out and told my sister.”
This admission became part of the defense for the young woman, and would later be expanded on. She said, “he caught me by both hands, around the waist and side and said he liked little girls. Then he kissed me and I struggled, but he kissed me again.” Additionally, Massey gave Davies a ring as a gift for her service at the dinner party earlier in the week. The duty she felt in protecting her virtue resonated with all those involved in the case, as well as the general public. In the “Voice of the People” section of the Toronto Daily Star readers showed their support for Davies. One reader wrote, “I believe our country is blessed with many such virtuous working girls, with such a keen sense of honour. We may yet hope that a girl or woman could go through her life in Canada at least, in office, factory, or domestic life, without that fear of man, that I fear too often rightfully exists at this present time.” An anonymous reader of the Evening Telegram, who later revealed herself to be Mrs. J. W. Drummond, wrote to the editor suggesting that a fund be started to pay for Davies’s legal fees. She sympathized with Davies, and assumed that others would too. The Evening Telegram as a whole proved to be sympathetic to Davies.
Torontonians stood by Davies throughout her legal battle. The Council of Women had attempted to raise funds for Davies’s defense, but Davies’s sister refused to accept their funding. The Bedfordshire Fraternal Organization stepped in established a legal fund to help Davies pay for her defense. Those asking for donation sought to appeal to “every Englishman, Welshman, and soldier, to every British subject,” simply asking to, “give the price of a cigar or a glass of beer and not to let this scandal be upon them of a poor friendless girl condemned because she was too poor to bring out evidence in her own favor.” Donations were sent into the Telegram signed by names such as “One Who Knows” and “Another English Working Girl” highlighting the fact that other Torontonians identified with Davies. Her experience with her employer would have not been an isolated incident within the Massey household, and by signing a donation as “One Who Knows” and “Another English Working Girl” point to a shared experience amongst other women.
Davies had arrived in Canada when she was 16 years old, two years prior to the murder. She had been employed for the Massey’s since her arrival. Her sister, a Mrs. Fairchild, also lived in Toronto, but her mother and other siblings had remained in Bedfordshire England. Davies’s employment in Toronto in the household of the Massey’s secured the financial stability of her family back home. Due to the rapid urbanization of Toronto, it was no surprise that it attracted more young single female workers than any other Canadian city in the early 20th century. Many domestics were immigrants, with a significant portion of them being from the British Isles. This line of work was low paying, with and average salary of $120 in 1901. In the late nineteenth century, domestic service was the largest single occupational category for Canadian women with 41% of working women employed in this field. But, during this time occupations of working class women began to shift. Though domestics still occupied the largest single occupational category, nearly 50% of women worked in workshops, stores, and factories. By 1911, 27.1% of women in the workforce were domestic servants. Yet, domestic service was still seen as a much more respectable job for the working class due to its existing within the domestic and private spheres.
Domestic service, unlike work in the public sector, had the potential to be completely isolated as many women worked as ‘live in’ servants. Due to this, they were often at a higher risk of being subjected to sexual harassment and assault by their employers. Constance Backhouse points to the exposure of domestic servants in stating, “the vulnerability of domestic servants to sexual exploitation was widely understood. The culprits were typically their masters, or male relatives of their masters.” Davies, who had previously never had a complaint about her employers, had discovered one of the harsh realities that women working faced. Backhouse continues her argument with “the long hours of work and lack of privacy were such that female servants were almost continuously accessible.” Massey made advances on Davies while his wife was away, meaning that Davies had become even more accessible to her employer during the days leading up to his murder. As a result of the Davies case, moral reformers in the form of the Canadian Vigilance Association requested that the Council of Women and the Women’s Christian Temperance Union meet for the purpose of forming organizations that would better serve in protecting domestic servants. This particular intersection of class, gender, and ethnicity allowed for the defense to depict Davies in a very specific light. She was a working class woman who supported her family back home. Domestic service was a respectable and traditional occupation, and was mostly held by British women. She fit the mould of the ideal working class girl.
The legal system in Canada in the early 20th century began to carve out a space for women in the criminal justice system – they along with children began being tried in separate courts. In 1913 Toronto sponsored a Women’s Court, which happened to be the first in the nation. Both the National Council of Women and the Young Women’s Christian Association backed the establishment of a separate court. This court would provide a “practical application of the standard of morals” creating a distinct relationship between morals and gender. Women were held to piety, faithfulness, and chastity, and the Women’s Court was designed by reformers to uphold these values. Strange argues that “advocates anticipated that separate women’s courts, with the public excluded, would allow magistrates to distinguish between innocent victims and evil minded women.” Mrs. A. M. Huestis, president of the Local Council of Women pointed to the fact that of the over 40,000 cases brought before the courts between 1913 and early 1915, many had been brought through the Women’s Court allowing for the female prisoners “a little of the privacy to which they [were] entitled.” Women’s groups like the Women’s Council advocated for ways to help the ‘fallen’ women, which often included sentences other than jail time. Davies was arraigned at the Women’s court on February 9th, being charged with murder.
An important part in understanding how gender, class, and race impacted Davies’s case is in comparing how these categories are seen and manipulated in other cases. The trial of Robert Brown played out simultaneously with Davies’s, with Chief Justice William Mulock presiding over both cases. Brown had shot his wife Evelyn (who later died) as well as Norman Smith (who lived) because he suspected Smith of sleeping with his wife. Although Brown was cleared of killing his wife, he pleded guilty to shooting with intent to cause grievous bodily harm in the shooting of Smith. Chief Justice Mulock cited “the apparent cold blooded deliberation” which Brown had taken in shooting Smith, and also used the charge which Brown was acquitted of, to further support his reasoning for sentencing. In accordance to Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code, Brown was sentenced to life in prison. Though the court believed that Brown had attempted to murder Smith, Brown attested that he did not intend to kill Smith – if he had intended to kill Smith he would have “shot him in the head,” instead of the leg. This case highlights how men were dealt with in the court, and how their crimes often centred on brutality, providing a base as to how murder cases were usually handled.
The deliberation of Davies’s crime is debatable. Massey had not been home for the better part of the day, nor had he made any advances on her since the prior incident. She had taken the time to find and load the gun, and then wait for her employer to come home. The defense, however, claimed that “it was a sudden impulse, prompted by the presence of the man as he came up the walk. The pressure was too great, and she broke down. There was no intention to kill or injure.” and that “her only desire was to protect herself against him.” The jury was also fully capable of finding Davies guilty of the lesser charge of manslaughter, yet many times all male juries found themselves upholding aspects of “chivalric justice.” Ernest E. A. DuVernet, the Crown Counsel, suggested that Davies “overreacted” by shooting Massey, and that would at least qualify her for manslaughter.
Hartley H. Dewart, Davies’s defense during her criminal trial, wanted to highlight that even though Davies had committed a crime she was still innocent and honourable. He was quoted as saying:
“You are accustomed to cases of murder in which sheer brutality plays so important a part. You are accustomed to cases where sordid lusts or love of gain supply the motive. You are accustomed to cases where jealousy, revenge, outraged confidence of the revengeful feelings of a woman despoiled of her virtue have led to the crime. [But never before had there been such a charge] against an innocent and honourable girl, fighting against unequal odds and a treacherous assailant.”
A particular understanding of the singularity of Davies’s case was noted even in 1915. The “revengeful feelings of a woman despoiled of her virtue” are a likely reference to the Clara Ford trial of 1895 in which Dewart served as Crown Counsel. In this particular case, Ford shot and killed Frank Westwood who she claimed had taken advantage of her. Similar to Davies, she waited several days after her altercation with the man before killing him. She allegedly dressed as a man, visited the home of her victim, and killed him when he answered the door. Ford’s defense used an argument similar to that of the Davies defence, where she killed for the sake of her virtue. This ultimately worked, and Ford was acquitted of the charges. A significant point of difference was the ways race and ethnicity were used as a tool in both trials. Ford was a biracial woman, and negative stereotypes of her black heritage were used by the prosecution to suggest that she was brutish and uncivilized. Davies was a white English woman in a time where Toronto’s population was mostly white and Anglo-Saxon. Race or ethnicity in Canada was a construct of various qualities including biology and culture. Dewart served as the crown attorney during Ford’s case, and took no issue in linking Ford’s race with her crime. For Davies, her ethnicity was played up due to the wartime climate. Upon her acquittal, Dewart was quoted as saying, “you can make a parallel between the soldiers in the trenches and the girl in her humble domestic capacity. It is no more murder or malice than it is for our brave troops to defence the honour of the empire.” The argument was made that supporting Davies was akin to supporting the troops overseas as they were both doing their duty to preserve all that is good in the world.
Ten years prior to Davies’s case, was the of Alexander and Ethel Martin. They were both charged in the death of their seven month old son whose body had washed ashore near Centre Island. The couple were both charged with the murder, but only Alexander Martin was found guilty. His wife’s defense claimed that due to the fact that she was the child’s mother, she could not have possibly killed him, and most likely tried to prevent the crime. Furthermore, testimony suggested that though Ethel Martin had been with her husband at the time of the child’s death, and concealed the death up until the discovery of the body, it was her husband who actually committed the crime and therefore he should be the one to serve the punishment. Both Alexander and Ethel Martin faced the death penalty for their crime, but Ethel Martin’s gender was a factor in saving her from the gallows – a fate which her husband met shortly after being found guilty. In January 1905 Alexander Martin was hanged for his crime. This returns to the suggestion that in cases where the death penalty was a potential option, if a woman was on trial the defense and the jury would take any small thing into consideration to avoid a guilty sentence. Though there was always the possibility of having the sentence commuted to life in prison, or for the prisoner to be pardoned of their crime, potentially sentencing a woman to death was not a light task.
Most importantly, Davies’s case was a matter of life and death. The Canadian Criminal Code of 1892 established that “everyone who commits murder is guilty of an indictable offence and shall on conviction thereof, be sentenced to death.” Even if Davies was to be found guilty of a lesser sentence of manslaughter she would have faced life imprisonment. The coroner’s inquest proved that a crime had been committed, and upon being brought to a criminal trial in the Assize court, the responsibility of the Crown was to prove the intent behind the crime. The jury had the power to send Davies to the gallows. Even finding her guilty of the lesser sentence of manslaughter had the potential to send her to jail for the rest of her life. From confederation to the elimination of the death penalty in 1976, almost 1,500 people had been sentenced to death. The punishment of death was not necessarily a ‘death sentence’ per se. Petitions for the sentence to be commuted to life in prison, or a complete pardon could save convicted criminals from hanging. 58 women had been sentenced to death until 1867 to 1976, but only 11 women were actually executed in Canada.
Even with a supposed crackdown on smaller moral crimes, women made up a relatively small percentage of total arrests. Between 1911 and 1919, women only made up 7.6% of arrests in Toronto. Most of these reflect crimes like drunkenness, theft, and vagrancy. In 1913 and 1916 less serious charges accounted for almost 90% of the total charges laid against women. During these same two years, only 50% and 57% of women respectively, were actually convicted of their crimes. A further 55% of women in 1913 and 36% in 1916 were sentenced to jail time. 1919 saw a conviction rate of 98%, but only 3 women were sentenced to time in local jails. A large percentage of women who were convicted of crimes were sentenced to reformatory institutions instead of jails. Though many of these reformatory institutions are remembered for causing irreparable damage to the women that were incarcerated, the establishment of a separate space for female criminals in order to re-instil accepted morals highlights the role that gender played in the punishment of criminals.
In looking at the cases that were tried in the Assize Court in 1915 of York County, it is evident how singular the Davies case is. 34 cases were tried during 1915, 3 of which centred around female defendants – Davies, Felicia Da Veolpe, and Polnia Romincheu. Da Veople was charged with wounding Leonardo Liczi who had been previously been charged with libel as he had been spreading rumors about her being a prostitute. Though Da Veolpe was ultimately found guilty of wounding Liczi, she was handed a suspended sentence as she had been provoked to attack him. Romincheu was charged with the typically female crime of concealing a birth. In total, between 1911 and 1919, 4 women were arrested for concealment of birth in Toronto. Out of the 19 people charged with murder, manslaughter, attempted murder, or intent to cause grievous bodily harm in 1915 (all crimes which attempt to end the life of another adult human being), Davies was the only woman.
The case of Carrie Davies provides a unique snapshot of Toronto at the beginning of the twentieth century. Factors like gender, class, and race or ethnicity are present in every trial, but the unique combination of the factors for Davies served in acquitting her of the serious charge of murder. Her virtue and good reputation solidified her as a respectable woman, as did her employment. Her story of coming to Toronto in order to work and support her family also established the responsibility she felt towards her family. In addition to how she maintained herself, Davies was also a white British woman in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon city. All these different pieces of Davies’s life were able to fit together in a particular way that secured her acquittal. Many of the men involved in the trial, including Judge Mulock, were noted to have been emotional as the verdict was read – a verdict which only took half an hour to reach. Davies’s acquittal represented the triumph of traditional moral and values in the changing times of the First World War. Her gender, her race, and her class were all determining factors in securing her freedom. Though these factors were present for many other women who interacted with the Canadian criminal justice system, Davies had the support of the city behind her. Her only wish after her acquittal was to be able to “be back at work [and] that she could forget it all and be able to go home to England to see her mother.”