Recommended for ages 15+
The late 1800s was a buttoned-down time in America. Girls were expected to marry, but were encouraged to cultivate intimate female friendships-a practice called “chumming”-with one another. Same sex love, though? Same sex marriage? Not even entertained as a concept.
Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward were two teenage girls whose feelings for one another went beyond “chumming”. They planned to run away and marry. Alice intended to live her public life as a man, working to support her Freda, and live happily ever after. When their plot was discovered and communication forbidden between the two, Freda obeyed her mother, moving on with her life. Alice snapped.
On a cold January day in 1892, Alice slashed Freda’s throat, in public, in front of horrified onlookers. What followed was a trial that became the event of the century, that forced both legal teams to examine the supposed insanity of same-sex love.
While same-sex love became a hotly debated topic, the country was still years away from another issue that emerged during this trial – racial equality. It was never in doubt that Alice murdered Freda, but being a young, white girl from a good family. the punishment was an issue. How could you send a young woman like that to hang? Meanwhile, three black grocers, in the same jail as Alice, were dragged out and hanged by a lynch mob for defending their store from a robbery by whites.
I’d seen something about Alice and Freda a couple of years ago on a History Channel show – the name long escapes me – so when I saw this book mentioned in School Library Journal, I HAD to read it. This book is fantastic – Alexis Coe is an archivist who spent the time to collect this story in primary sources – letters, newspaper clippings, court proceedings – and her work shows. It’s nonfiction that reads like fiction, with companion drawings of evidence.
This is an amazing book for teen readers and beyond. Its historical relevance is not to be ignored, and while readers can appreciate where we’ve come as a society, they can also see where, sadly, we’ve become stuck.
All in all, Alice + Freda Forever is an unputdownable read.