1899 – The First Woman Meets The Electric Chair

1899?  Wow!  I tend to forget that they even had electricity back then. So long ago. Thus, here is the story of Martha M. Place, the first woman to meet her fate in the chair. This is  Strange…and…Bizarre!

So now, into the fray!


Born in New Jersey, Martha Place was struck in the head by a sleigh at age 23. Her brother claimed that she never completely recovered and that the accident left her mentally unstable. Martha married widower William Place in 1893. Place had a daughter named Ida from a previous marriage. William married Martha to help him raise his daughter, although it was later rumored that Martha was jealous of Ida. William called the police at least once to arrest his wife for threatening to kill Ida.

Sketch from the front page of a French publication

On the evening of February 7, 1898, William Place arrived at his Brooklyn, New York home and was attacked by Martha, who was wielding an axe. William escaped for help and when the police arrived, they found Martha Place in critical condition lying on the floor with clothes over her head and gas from burners escaping into the room. Upstairs they discovered the dead body of 17-year-old Ida Place lying on a bed. Her mouth was bleeding and her eyes disfigured from having acid thrown in them. The evidence later indicated Ida Place died from asphyxiation. Martha Place was hospitalized and arrested.

Pardon my French, but old photos always creep me the F out!

Place proclaimed her innocence while awaiting trial. One contemporary newspaper report described the defendant in this way:

She is rather tall and spare, with a pale, sharp face. Her nose is long and pointed, her chin sharp and prominent, her lips thin and her forehead retreating. There is something about her face that reminds one of a rat’s, and the bright but changeless eyes somehow strengthen the impression.

Martha Place was found guilty of the murder of her stepdaughter Ida and sentenced to death. Her husband was a key witness against her.

Having never executed a woman in the electric chair, those responsible for carrying out the death warrant devised a new way to place the electrodes upon her. They decided to slit her dress and place the electrode on her ankle. Edwin F. Davis was the executioner. According to the reports of witnesses, she died instantly.

The governor of the State of New York Theodore Roosevelt was asked to commute Place from the death sentence, but he refused. Martha Place was buried in the family cemetery plot in East Millstone, New Jersey without religious observances.

Although Place was the first woman to die in the electric chair, she was not the first woman sentenced to it; that woman was Maria Barbella, who was later found not guilty of her crime and released.

As a bonus, here is a picture of the first woman WHILE in the electric chair, Ruth Snyder. A reporter had a small camera strapped to his lower leg and got the shot: