Monday, April 9, 2018

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson by T. Felder Dorn

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage Carolina Murder Scandal
Genre: True Crime
Date of Publication: April 2, 2018
Pages: 192 with black & white images

Jennie May Walker Burleson was envied for having everything a woman of her time could want—the privileged upbringing, the dazzling good looks, the dashing war hero husband. She was admired for demonstrating that a woman could want more, from the front of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession to the bottom of a Mesoamerican archaeological dig. But as she stood over the body of her husband’s second wife, gun in hand, society’s envy and admiration quickly hardened into pity and scorn. T. Felder Dorn examines the complicated trajectory of her life as socialite, suffragist and shooter.

Rating: 4 of 5 stars 

The Downfall of Galveston's May Walker Burleson: Texas Society Marriage Carolina Murder Scandal is the re-telling of the very tragic life of May Walker Burleson including her high profile marriage to U.S. Army Colonel Richard Burleson, their resulting divorce, and her murder of the Colonel's second wife, Isabel Knowlton Burleson. 

In the opening of the book we learn about May, who is quite an intriguing woman. Considering she lived during a time when women did not have careers or equal rights to men, she was very active in politics. She also traveled quite a bit including participating in archaeological digs in Mexico. May advocated for women's rights, even participating in a march for women's suffrage in 1913. Her life began with such promise, but as the title of the book indicates, quickly dissipated.   

Any reader can easily discern that the author, T. Felder Dorn, put quite a bit of research in the compilation of this book. It is written academically with many citations expressing the veracity of the accounts that are shared in chronological order. The book is in the 200-page range, but can be a little slow at times, especially the scenes that describe the Burleson's divorce proceedings as they included much legalese. However, I do find this to be an asset and testament to the work that Dorn put into the research and writing of this book. The result is, essentially, a very detailed biography of May Walker Burleson. It also includes several photos that enhance the story. All of the images are black and white, although, that's all the reader can expect from this time period. Even so, they are engaging thus illustrating May's very colorful life story. 

My only (and very minor) complaint about this thoroughly-researched book is that it took a little more than half the book to get to the actual murder. I think this is probably because Dorn was trying to paint a clear picture of how May got to the point of murder as well as put the reader in her mindset. Dorn takes us through the murder, trial, and what May's life was like post-trial. The next bit may include what some would deem a spoiler, so I've hidden it here

Recommendation: While the events of May's life happened many decades ago, I think many women can relate to her, even today. These events could quite easily occur today. Readers of this book will also learn about the divorce process and how it was conducted in the early 1900s compared to today. I would definitely recommend this book for history and drama buffs. 

Until next time ... Read on!

Arcadia Publishing / The History Press
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T. Felder Dorn graduated from Duke University in 1954 with a BS in chemistry and was awarded a PhD in that discipline in 1958 by the University of Washington. He was a member of the chemistry faculty at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, in 1958–69 and then served four years on the program staff of the College Board in New York. From 1973 to 1991, he held administrative positions at Kean University in Union, New Jersey, serving as associate dean, dean and vice-president for academic affairs. His last ten years at Kean were spent as professor of chemistry. He retired in 2001. Felder Dorn and his wife, Sara Ruth, have resided in Millburn, New Jersey, since 1973. They have three children and three grandchildren. Dorn has previously published four books: Challenges on the Emmaus Road: Episcopal Bishops Confront Slavery, Civil War, and Emancipation (University of South Carolina Press, 2013); Death of a Policeman, Birth of a Baby: A Crime and Its Aftermath (Xlibris, 2012); The Guns of Meeting Street: A Southern Tragedy (University of South Carolina Press, 2001); and The Tompkins School, 1925–1953: A Community Institution (Attic Press, 1994).

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  1. Of course, I had to read your spoiler. WOW. Just wow. I wonder -- were you expecting that part of her personality based on the rest of her life story? Did it fit? I guess I need to read the book! Thanks for writing a great review.

    1. It was a shocker for me. Because she led the Woman Suffrage Procession I (incorrectly) assumed she was a little more progressive.