According to her Boston Globe obituary, when Frances Glessner Lee, the Gilded Age heiress turned pioneering forensic scientist, was interrupted again and again by a male reporter, she “pushed out her jaw and said, ‘Look here, young man, you’re trying to anticipate what I’m going to say, and you haven’t the brains enough to do it.”
That kind of assertiveness, especially from a woman, would today be the stuff of internet gold—screenshotted and shared on Instagram and Twitter, plastered on Zazzle mugs and Etsy totes—but somehow Glessner Lee was relatively unknown until the Renwick Gallery’s recent exhibition, “Murder is Her Hobby.” (Of Dolls and Murder, a 2010 documentary narrated by John Waters, also focused on Glessner Lee’s work.)
Commonly referred to as “the mother of forensic science,” Glessner Lee devoted the later years of her life to improving the field of crime scene investigation. Beginning in the 1940s, Glessner Lee made “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” dollhouse-sized crime scenes used to help train investigators on how to approach crime scenes. These dioramas, now in the possession of The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner for the State of Maryland, are still used to teach forensic scientists today. Jezebel interviewed Nora Atkinson, the curator of “Murder Is Her Hobby” and Corinne May Botz, author of “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death,” to learn more about her.