Virginia Christian: The Last Woman Executed by Virginia?

Photograph of Virginia Christian probably taken on 3 June 1912 when she was transferred from Hampton to the Virginia Penitentiary Death House in Richmond.   Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary, Series II. Prisoner Records, Subseries B Photographs, Box 19, Accession 41558.

On 16 August 1912, 17-year-old Virginia Christian was electrocuted at the Virginia Penitentiary for the 18 March 1912 murder of Ida Belote, her white employer. Today, she remains the only woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia since the General Assembly centralized executions at the Virginia State Penitentiary in 1908. That historic distinction may be about to change. Barring any intervention by the judicial system or Governor Robert McDonnell, Teresa Lewis will be executed on 23 September 2010 at the Greensville Correctional Center for her role in the murder of her husband, Julian Lewis. Lewis’s pending execution has sparked renewed interest in the Christian case.

The Library of Virginia has a variety of documents concerning Virginia Christian’s execution. Rather than summarizing the case, I will let a representative sample of 51 documents tell the story from all sides: Christian’s family and her attorneys, Belote’s family, the prosecutor, and Governor William Hodges Mann. These documents were drawn from various State Records collections including:  Virginia Dept. of Corrections, State Penitentiary; Secretary of the Commonwealth, Executive Papers; and Records of Governor William Mann. Each image caption includes the citation of the document. The records of the Virginia State Penitentiary Collection, 1796-1991 (Accession 41558) are now open to researchers.

Readers interested in exploring how the Christian case was covered in the media should consult the Library of Virginia’s extensive newspaper collection. Click here for a select list of newspaper articles on the case. Derryn Moten’s 1998 dissertation, “A Gruesome Warning to Black Girls:  The August 16, 1912 Execution of Virginia Christian,” is a comprehensive history of the case. The Library has a copy on microfilm (Film 1497) that is available for in-library use only.  An article in the 15 September 2010 issue of Style Weekly, “Blood Sisters” by Melissa Scott Sinclair, explores the similaries between the Christian and Lewis cases.

-Roger Christman, Senior State Records Archivist
Original post edited for clarity

For more information on Ida V. Belote see Souls of the Departed:  Ida V. Belote

Transcription of George Fields Letter

Transcription of J. Thomas Newsome Letter

Transcription of Charlotte Christian Letter

 

1 Comment

  1. Ronique Breauxjordan said:
    25 February 2011 at 5:05 pm

    I’ve enjoyed educating my children about Virginia’s
    vast history in comparison to my family’s extensive Louisiana history as documented in St.James parish, La.
    from Catholic church records and my cousin who is a history professor at Southern University.

    We continue to explore the history of the Commonwealth of Virginia with your publications.

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