35 Vintage Mugshots That Prove They Don’t Make Female Criminals Like They Used To

Published February 27, 2018

These women, charged with everything from theft to murder, are anything but prim and proper — and will still chill you to the bone a century later.

Dorothy Mort
Alice Fisher
Laura Belle Devlin
Amy Lee
35 Vintage Mugshots That Prove They Don’t Make Female Criminals Like They Used To
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They range from fresh-faced teenagers to hardened old women who have lived through hell. Their appearances range from dirty and disheveled to Sunday best. And the charges leveled against them range from petty theft to murder and dismemberment.

But as diverse as these vintage mugshots of accused female criminals are, all of these photos paint a different image of how we so often imagine ladies of the early 1900s: prim and proper. There were, of course, rough-and-tumble criminals back then just as there are today. And the mugshots above are certainly a testament to that.

What's more, these mugshots reveal how little has changed over the course of the mugshot's long history, which dates back nearly to the beginning of photography itself.

During the 1840s, when it was still a new technology, police departments displayed daguerreotype portraits of potential "rogues" or suspects. The nature of long-exposure photography meant that often several people needed to hold down the suspects in order to get the photo. The department then hung the likenesses so that the patrolmen could familiarize themselves with the suspects.

In 1886, New York police chief Thomas Byrne published Professional Criminals of America, a book grouping hundreds of mugshots from across the country. “There cannot be the slightest doubt but that it will prove an important medium in the prevention and detection of crime,” court officer Frederick Smyth wrote in the book's introduction.

In 1888, Alphonse Bertillon created the modern mugshot, which included two images: one in profile and one from the front. This practice included bodily measurements and together the technique constituted the “Bertillon System.” Bertillon’s system appeared at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and spread like wildfire to the biggest cities in America.

Taken not long after that point, the vintage mugshots of female criminals above provide a fascinating look at how these types of photos looked more than a century ago.


Next, see some of the most iconic mugshots of famous people throughout history. Then, read up on some of the most fearsome female gangsters of all time.

Erin Kelly
Erin Kelly is a freelance writer, artist and video editor that splits her time between the humid Midwest and the dusty corners of her mind.
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