Julia Konwick ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The true story of Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward is one that United States history has forgotten. This is surprising, considering how much the media, writers, and Hollywood love a good, scandalous murder. Luckily, Alexis Coe has decided that this story remain undiscussed no longer. In her new book, Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis, released on Oct. 7 by PULP., an imprint of Zest Books, Ms. Coe accepts the challenge of reintroducing the public to Alice and Freda’s tragic tale.
Alice Mitchell and Freda Ward were two young, well-to-do women in Memphis during the late nineteenth century. They met at their women’s preparatory high school and fell in love, resulting in a semi-secret romantic affair. When their love letters and, consequently, their plans to have Alice pose as a man so they could get married, were discovered by one of Freda’s older sisters, the girls were forbidden from speaking ever again.
Freda’s willingness to comply with the orders sent Alice, already unstable, into a spiraling depression, and on Jan. 25, 1892, Alice sliced Freda’s throat at the dock where Freda was waiting to take a steamboat back to her home in Golddust, TN. Using actual letters exchanged between them, as well as newspaper articles from the time, Ms. Coe recreates the scene of the murder, as well as the events leading up to it, and the resulting trial that landed Alice in a mental hospital until she died of uncertain causes six years later.
The story of Alice and Freda is alone enough to get someone to pick this book up off of the shelf, but the way the information is presented to the reader is what will keep them going. Ms. Coe obviously did a great deal of research for this book and it shows in many ways.
Many primary sources are cited, including quotes from newspapers that covered the trial as it happened, and the letters Alice and Freda sent to each other. Instead of simply quoting the letters, though, she includes them in the book, in handwritten type as an additive that gives the story a more personal feel. There are also illustrations by Sally Klann of a couple of scenes, and of almost all of the people involved. This inclusion was a nice way to break up what was occasionally a long, drawn out narrative.
Although the book reads somewhat like an elongated college essay, the topic and additions to Ms. Coe’s work make it interesting, even for those who dislike non-fiction. She gives new life to all those involved in the incident, not just Alice and Freda. Their families, friends, attorneys, and the judge who presided over the case all come to life in the pages of this account in an unbiased narrative. For anyone interested in learning about Alice and Freda’s story, Ms. Coe’s book is an excellent place to look, not only for clarity of events but also overall historical context of the time in which they took place.