Martha Place: The First Woman to be Electrocuted

Martha Place: The First Woman to be Electrocuted - student project

The following script is an essay script written for my weird facts YouTube channel Weird Five.

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClcSev7fdUYYC65dnZI4rMA

In honor of Women’s History Month we here at Weird Five introduce you to a shocking, iconic first—death by Electric Chair. And while that in itself is an interesting story it's mild in comparison to what got our heroine there. Stick around till the end to find out just how unhinged was Martha Place.

 

In the 1890s women did not have much equality in their lives. Of course, they couldn’t vote yet, but also couldn’t sue, be sued, or testify in court, and were banned from higher education. So while it is a bit macabre, Martha Place was really cooking. ( sorry we couldn’t help ourselves) and if you have any good puns leave them in the comments. We can never get enough.

 

Martha Place was born Martha Garretson in 1849 on September 18, to firm, disciplined parents. Her family was lower class and this meant that the only available jobs were laborious ones; seamstress, domestic servants, factory workers, and farmers. Some in this class had the opportunity to be housewives.

Not much information is known about Mary between the years of her leaving school and getting married the first time. 

Martha Garretson became Martha Savacool after she married Wesely Savacool. She also had a son Ross, but this marriage was turbulent, and while after the birth of Ross, Martha and Wesely reveled in the beauty of raising their child together, the old nagging feelings came back. Pushing Wesley to abandon his wife and son. Estranged from his family it was later determined Wesely died.  Unable to support Ross on her own, Martha allowed his adoption by a family that recently lost their son.

After this  Martha went into business with an associate starting a seamstress shop, but she was still unable to make ends meet. She decided to kill two birds with one stone and secure a second job as a live-in housekeeper. This was how she met William Place and his daughter Ida. 

William had recently lost his wife and needed a mother figure for his daughter. He was impressed with the management of his home by his new housekeeper. He touted how Martha kept house and attended to his daughter. He described her as disciplined and highly efficient. While he may not have had hearts in his eyes,  In 1893 he decided to marry her to assist him in raising his daughter permanently.

William’s family and friends did not give this union their blessing. They could not understand his attraction, Martha seemed cold and unemotional and was not very attractive. According to the New York Times, her face is not pleasant, she looked like a rat. 

In contrast, Ida grew into a beautiful young lady and was very well-liked. Like most young ladies do, Ida started to crave independence, being confrontational with Martha. Martha, already unhappy, was jealous of William’s love of his daughter. This jealousy led to a tumultuous relationship between the two.  Ida and Martha argued frequently and in one instance, William reported to the police that  Martha threatened to kill Ida.

This is why William took it very seriously when Ida told him that Martha abused her. William was caught in the middle again. But this time he confronted Martha and this was the literal beginning of the end.

 As the argument became more and more heated William reached his boiling point, he spoke his piece, struck Martha, and left home for work. 

Martha fuming went to her bedroom and attempted to calm down, but unable to control her rage she went to confront Ida. Ida was indifferent to Martha and her fury. She dismissed her antics and closed the door in her face. Not willing to be ignored Martha went to the office of her amateur photographer husband, grabbed the phenol acid marched up the stairs and drenched Ida, destroying most of her face. But she was not done. Breaking barriers to testify on her own behalf, she said that she left the room after the act of dousing Ida, but autopsy reports show that not only did Martha pour acid on Ida, but smothered her with her own bedding. Once she finished Ida she lay in wait for William.

Around 5 William got home & Martha and her trusty axe gave him a good wack in the back of the head. Noticing that Willam has not yet gone down she wacks him again.  Roaring and stumbling in pain William manages to escape to the street, where Neighbors assist him in alerting the authorities.

 

It is unknown if Martha thinks she has unalived her husband, but she is definitely working to unalive herself. Martha has turned on the gas stove and covered herself in pillows and blankets awaiting the sweet sleep of the by and by, but Authorities crash her nap and she is arrested for what they think is only attempted murder of her husband, but after police investigate the home and find the disfigured, non-breathing body of Ida the charge of murder is added to the list.

Martha’s trial delivered swift amends for the downhearted father who said he was not seeking vengeance but justice for the murder of his daughter on February 7, 1898.

 

Public opinion was up and down on the matter. Some felt that as a woman she should not be given the Electric chair, but others felt that if she was able to remove her delicate feminine charm to attempt such heinous crimes she should get the appropriate punishment. 

Martha was not the first woman sentenced to the electric chair, but she was the first to have the sentence handed down and acted on. She did attempt an appeal citing abuse from her husband and mental issues as she had been struck in the head by a moving sleigh at the age of 23 and was reported by her brother to never be the same.

 

Her appeal was denied. On 15 March 1899, five days before she was supposed to be executed, Gov. Theodore Roosevelt expressed that clemency was out of the question: “The only case of capital punishment which has occurred since the beginning of my term as Governor was for wife-murder, and I refused to consider the appeals then made to me after I became convinced that the man really had done the deed and was sane. In that case, a woman was killed by a man, in this case, a woman was killed by another woman. The law makes no distinction as to sex in such a crime. This murder was one of peculiar deliberation and atrocity.



 On March 20, 1899, at 11 Martha was led to the execution room dressed in a black 

dress she made herself for the occasion. She was treated with the utmost respect for the situation that is. Instead of shaving her head completely bald, the executioners shaved small spots specifically for the nodes being careful to allow her to keep her thick graying hair. They also slit a hole in her stockings to keep her legs decorously covered while applying nodes to her ankles.

 

It was said that Martha was emotionless. She did not make any out loud appeals and did not appear remorseful. At 12:01 up to 2,000 volts were sent through her body. Martha was declared deceased at 12:03, without any religious ceremony she was later laid to rest in a family cemetery plot. 

 

Well, this ends the story of Martha Place. William Place, the key witness eventually had a full recovery living a long life dying in 1923 at the age of 70.

 

So did you see that coming? Did you have any idea Martha may be that unhinged? Do you think maybe her sleigh accident affected her and caused an emotional disconnection?

 

We can’t wait to hear your thoughts. Until next time, stay safe and curious. Thanks for watching.