Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Shocking Story Of The First Woman Executed By Electric Chair

by Stephen J. Gertz

She bristles with courage, she has poise, assurance, no end of intelligence... she loves like fire and she hates like T.N.T. ... More power and good luck to her, guilty or not. It would be a waste and a shame to burn up such a woman ... for dramatic, poetic purposes, alone, I say --- VIVE LA RUTH! (From the Preface by Jack Lait).

She wasn't the true first (who remembers Martha M. Place?) but when Ruth Brown Snyder (1895 - 1928), a Queens, NYC housewife, sat down in Sing-Sing's Ol' Sparky at 11PM, January 12, 1928, she became, in the public imagination, the first femme to fry. She was certainly one of the most celebrated occupants of The Chair during the Roaring 'Twenties.

Ruth Snyder, during her trial.

“'Ruthless Ruth,' as the press inevitably called her, was on the wrong side of 30 and married to a wet blanket on the wrong side of 40 from whom she couldn’t even get away during the day because they worked for the same boating magazine.

"The banal hell of the bourgeoisie.

"Ruth had a banal solution: commence affair with handsome, limp-willed corset salesman (also married) from New Jersey.

"Given a large enough metropolis with a large enough pool of adulterous data points, it must be statistically inexorable that a certain proportion will resolve the love triangle by throttling the cuckold with a wire" (Executed Today).

Snyder's execution led to the creation of one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century. Her final seconds were inelegantly caught on film by Tom Howard, reputedly a Chicago Tribune reporter, who clandestinely photographed the moment by use of a miniature camera strapped to his ankle. The next morning, the photograph blazoned across the front pages of the New York Daily News, and to this date it is the only photograph of a person being electrocuted in such Grand Guignol circumstances. Howard's camera now resides in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. 

Ruth Snyder now resides in the collections of Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY, Arbutus plot, Section 119, Lot 16528.

Mug Shot, Sing-Sing, 1927.

Ruth Snyder's Own True Story is a very rare little book. OCLC notes only two copies in institutional holdings worldwide but, then again, who outside the U.S. would care? Only one copy has recently come to market. It may be already gone by the time you read this.

According to Last Meals Before Execution, on her final day alive Ruth Snyder  told her figure to take a flying one; she wasn't going to need it anymore. To help the medicine go down, Ruth  primed herself with Chicken Parmesan with pasta Alfredo, ice cream, two milkshakes, and a 12-pack of grape soda. 

Followed by a lot of juice, 1220 volts, in three big gulps.

SNYDER, Ruth Brown. BELASCO, David.  LAIT, Jack. MACK, Williard. SHIPMAN, Samuel - Contributors. Ruth Snyder's Own True Story. Published Complete for the First Time Anywhere. Written by Herself in the Death Cell. 25¢. [New York]: King Features Syndicate, (1927). First edition. Quarto (11-1/4" x 8-1/2 in.). Orange pictorial paper wrappers, printed in white with B&W drawing of an incarcerated Snyder to center and facsimile signature to lower third. 47, [1 (blank)] pp. Illustrated with 10 B&W images from photographs, including all the key players in the crime and trial. 

Book image courtesy of Tavistock Books, currently offering this title, with our thanks.


  1. I have a first edition copy of this. I found it in an antique store and paid $20 for it. Nice find.

    1. Yes, it was! I will be looking for this book- the last part of my name is Ruth Snyder-lol! Guess I'd better be good!

    MARCH 21 1889


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