Virginia’s first woman to die in the elec-tric chair was 17-year-old
Virginia Christian of Elizabeth City County. Christian’s case
attracted interest across the state and nation because of her age and
Chicago newspaper publicized the case and hired an attorney
to intercede on her behalf with the governor. She was executed on
August 16, 1912, for the murder of 51-year-old Ida Belote.
Christian's murder of
her white employer, Ida Virginia Bailed, was described by Governor
William Hodges Mann as the most dastardly in the state's history and
that Christian's execution was necessary to ensure public safety.
She was executed on
August 16, 1912, for striking her female employer with a broomstick
and then suffocating her with a towel.
Virginia Christian (15 August 1895 – 16
August 1912) was the first female executed in the 20th century in the
state of Virginia, and a juvenile offender executed in the United
States. She was also the only female juvenile executed by electric
chair and, to date, the last female executed in the electric chair by
the Commonwealth of Virginia. She was the last female executed by the
Commonwealth until Thursday, September 23, 2010 when Teresa Lewis
became the first female in nearly a century to be executed in the US
state of Virginia.
Christian, a black maid, was convicted for the
murder of her employer Mrs. Ida Virginia Belote, a white woman, aged
72 years, in her home at Hampton on 18 March 1912. It is said she
confessed shortly after she was arrested.
Belote frequently mistreated Christian, and in mid-
March 1912, an argument ensued between the two in which Belote accused
Christian of stealing a locket and a skirt. Belote hit Christian with
a cuspidor, commonly called a 'spittoon'. The altercation escalated
when Christian and Belote ran for two broom handles Belote used to
prop up her bedroom windows. Christian grabbed one of the broom
handles and struck Belote on the forehead. In an attempt to stifle
Belote’s screams, Christian stuffed a towel down Belote’s throat, and
the woman died by suffocation.
When Christian left the house, she stole Belote’s
purse with some money and a ring. One newspaper reported that police
found Belote’s body “laying face down in a pool of blood, and her head
was horribly mutilated and a towel was stuffed into her mouth and
throat”. (Streib & Sametz, 1989, p. 25; see also Moten, 1997)
Police soon arrested Christian, and during
questioning she admitted to hitting Belote but was shocked that Belote
was dead. Christian claimed she had no intent to kill Belote. With a
lynch mob looming in the background, an Elizabeth City County Court
tried and convicted Christian for murder and the trial judge sentenced
her to death in the state’s electric chair. One day after her 17th
birthday in August 1912, a short five months after the crime, Virginia
authorities executed Christian at the state penitentiary in Richmond.
Governor William Hodges Mann declined to commute
the death sentence, despite a plea from Virginia's mother, Charlotte
Christian, who wrote to him:
My dear mr governor
Please for give me for Bowing low to write you
a few lines: I am the mother of Virginiany Christian. I have been
pairalized for mor then three years and I could not and Look after
Gennie as I wants too. I know she dun an awful weaked thing when she
kill Miss Belote and I hear that the people at the penetintry wants
to kill her but I is praying night and day on my knees to God that
he will soften your heart so that She may spend the rest of her days
in prison. they say that the whole thing is in yours Hands and I
know Governer if you will onely save my child who is little over
sixteen years old God will Bless you for ever … If I was able to
come to see you I could splain things to you better but I cant do
nothing but pray to God and ask him to help you to simpithise with
me and my truble
I am your most umble subgeck,
Christian was electrocuted in the state prison in
Richmond. She was 17 years old. The paper reported that her body was
to be turned over to the state medical school, because her parents did
not have the money to transport the body from Richmond.
Last Time Virginia Executed a Female was 1912
Virginia Christian was just 17 when she was put to
By Jean Jadhom - WDBJ7.com
September 23, 2010
The last time a female was executed in Virginia was
nearly a century ago when a black teenager was convicted of killing
her white female employer, after the woman accused the teen of
stealing a skirt.
Virginia Christian was working as a servant in the
Hampton area. The teenager was convicted of strangling Mrs. Ida
Belote. At just 17, without ever taking the stand, Christian was
sentenced to die. "No. She's not getting a fair trial. She's not even
allowed to testify,' said Hollins University History Professor Ruth
While historical accounts show her employer
actually struck Christian repeatedly first, that was never brought out
in court. "Probably a lot of people in Virginia, a lot of white people
would have thought that was not abuse, but was normal behavior," Doan
Doan believes Christian's attorneys, who were also
African American, feared bringing their client to the stand could
incite widespread violence against blacks.
Christian was tried less than two weeks after the
murder. According to a letter from her attorneys to the Governor,
'While excitement caused by the news of the tragedy was yet unabated.'
Her attorneys wrote, "'Great throngs of people, far
more than could be accommodated in the courtroom, pressed for entrance
to the trial, and the feeling manifested was intense.'
Doan believes there was a fear of what could happen
if Christian were found not guilty or if she spoke on the stand about
"Maybe if she testified, and certainly if she got
off, we'd have a lynch mob in town," Doan said, "Even if Christian had
not been brought to trial, if there had been no trial, probably she
would have been tried by the community in one way or another, maybe
hauled out and lynched, maybe just run from out of town."
Virginia Christian was electrocuted on August 16,
1912, just five months after the murder. That same electric chair is
still in use in modern times when death row inmates choose
electrocution over lethal injection.
17-year-old Virginia Christian murdered her
employer, Ida Belote on March 18, 1912.
Ida Belote, 51 was one of Hampton's white
aristocracy by way of her father's prominence as the owner of a large
grocery. News accounts described her as weighing only 91 pounds, "a
frail, delicate widow".
Virginia, called Gennie was Belote's washerwoman.
Belote had accused Gennie of stealing a locket and a skirt, and the
two got into a violent argument. Gennie had used a broom handle to
force Ida’s tongue, a towel and some of her hair down her throat.
The police found Belote laying face down in a pool
Gennie did litle to cover up her crime, and she
confessed soon after she was arrested.
In the lokal press of the time Virginia Christian
was described as: A full-blooded negress, with kinky hair done up
in threads, with dark lusterless eyes and with splotches on the skin
of her face. Her color is dark brown, and her figure is short, dumpy
and squashy. She has had some schooling, but her speech does not
betray it. Her language is the same as the unlettered members of her
A newspapers quoted Virginia’s confession
She (Mrs Belote) come to mammer’s house dat
morning an’ say she want me to come an’ do some washin’. When I come
home mommer say miss Belote want me an’ I went ‘roun’ to de house. I
wen’ in de back way an’ when she see me she asked me about a gold
locket she missed. I told her I ain’t seen it an’ don’t know nuthin’
about it. She also say sumthin’ about a skirt but de main thing was
the locket. She say “yes you got it an’ if you don’t bring it back,
I’m goin’ to have you put in jail.”
I got mad an’ told her if I did have it, she
wasn’t goin’ to git it back. Den she picked up de spittoon and hit me
wit it an’ it broke. They wuz two sticks in de room, broom handles.
She run for one, an’ I for de’ other. I got my stick furst an’ I hit
her wit it ‘side de hade and she fell down. She kep’ hollerin’ so I
took a towel and stuffed it in her mouth. I helt it there twel she
quit hollerin’ and jes’ groaned. I didn’t mean to kill her an’ I
didn’t know I had. I was mad when I hit her an’ stuffed the towel in
her mouth to keep her from hollerin’. I never meant to kill her. When
I lef’ she was groanin’ and layin’ on her back.
Virginia's mother, Charlotte Christian wrote a
letter in a vain attemt to save her daughter from the electric chair:
My dear Mr. Governor: Please forgive me for
bothering you ... I have been paralyzed for more than three years and
I could not look after Gennie as I wants to. I know she done an awful
wicked thing when she killed Miss Belote and I hear that people at the
penitentiary wants to kill her. But I am praying night and day on my
knees to God that he will soften your heart. If you only save my child
who is so little, God will bless you forever.
Local papers reported that despite a vigorous
defense, the jury returned a guily verdict on April 9, 1912. On August
16, 1912 just five months after the crime, Virginia Christian was
strapped in the electric chair at the state penitentiary in Richmond,
Virginia's electric chair was build in 1908 and
thus quite new when used upon Virginia Christian.
In the years around 1912 the procedure of
electrocution was still under developement. The electrodes were
attached to Gennie's forearms instead of her head and leg.
A reporter witnessed the execution:
The usual three shocks were administered by the
officer in charge of the electric current. Each time the electric
switch was touched, the body of the woman responded with fearful
convulsions. Death, it is believed, was instantaneous.
The paper reported that Gennie's body was to be
turned over to the state medical school, because her parents did not
have the money to transport the body from Richmond.