18 Tiny Deaths
The Untold Story of Frances Glessner Lee and the Invention of Modern Forensics
by Bruce Goldfarb
Pub Date 04 Feb 2020
The fascinating story of the forgotten woman who pioneered forensic science
As America ramps up efforts toward victory in World War II, Frances Glessner Lee stands at the front of a wood-paneled classroom within Harvard Medical School and addresses the young men attending her seminar on the developing field of forensic science. A grandmother without a college degree, Lee may appear better suited for a life of knitting than of investigation of unexpected death. Her colleagues and students, however, know her to be an extremely intelligent and exacting researcher and teacher-the perfect candidate, despite her gender, to push the scientific investigation of unexpected death out of the dark confines of centuries-old techniques and into the light of the modern day.
Lee's decades-long obsession with advancing the discipline of forensic science was a battle from the very beginning. In a time when many prestigious medical schools were closed to female students and young women were discouraged from entering any kind of scientific profession, Lee used her powerful social skills, family wealth, and uncompromising dedication to revolutionize a field that was usually political, often corrupt, and always deeply rooted in the primal human fear of death.
18 Tiny Deaths transports the reader back in time and tells the story of how one woman, who should never have even been allowed into the classrooms she ended up teaching in, changed the face of science forever.
"Eye-opening biography of Frances Glessner Lee, who brought American medical forensics into the scientific age...genuinely compelling."—Kirkus Reviews
"Frances Glessner Lee's dioramas of death have long been objects of fascination; now Bruce Goldfarb, the man who knows them best, has written a definitive account of how they came to be, and of the compelling, complex woman who created them. This book will beguile anyone with an interest in forensic science or the history of crime investigation." —Rachel Monroe, author of Savage Appetites: Four True Stories of Women, Crime, and Obsession
"Thorough research helps him paint a captivating portrait of a feminist hero and forensic pioneer. " —Booklist
"Goldfarb’s clearly written and well-researched book is recommended for history and legal studies audiences." —Library Journal
"A culmination of years of historical research using primary sources, including the papers of Frances Glessner Lee herself. It is the story of how one stubborn, intelligent, creative, and self-taught woman could immerse herself in a passion that had immense repercussions in the fields of both medicine and the law… As this absorbing and evocative book will show you, Frances Glessner Lee should be recognized as the matriarch of the modern practice of forensic pathology." —Judy Melinek, M.D., co-author of Working Stiff