Frances <I>Glessner</I> Lee


Frances Glessner Lee

Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, USA
Death 27 Jan 1962 (aged 83)
Burial Bethlehem, Grafton County, New Hampshire, USA
Memorial ID 54755978 View Source
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Forensic Science Pioneer. She was influential in developing the science of forensics in the United States. To this end, she created the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death, 20 true crime scene dioramas recreated in minute detail at dollhouse scale, used for training homicide investigators. Eighteen of the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death are still in use for teaching purposes by the Maryland Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, and the dioramas are also now considered works of art. Lee also helped to establish the Department of Legal Medicine at Harvard, and endowed the Magrath Library of Legal Medicine there. She became the first female police captain in the United States, and is known as the "mother of forensic science." She was born in Chicago in 1878. Her father, John Jacob Glessner, was an industrialist who became wealthy from International Harvester. She and her brother were educated at home; her brother went to Harvard, but she was not permitted to attend college. Instead, she married a lawyer, Blewett Lee. The marriage ended in divorce. When she expressed interest in forensic pathology years later, she was emphatically discouraged. She had to wait until a year after her brother's death in 1930 and took her first steps towards her own career at age 52. She inherited the Harvester fortune and she finally had the money to develop an interest in how detectives could examine clues. She was inspired by a classmate of her brother, George Burgess Magrath, who was studying medicine at Harvard Medical School and was particularly interested in death investigation. They remained close friends until his death in 1938. Magrath became a chief medical examiner in Boston and together they lobbied to have coroners replaced by medical professionals. Glessner Lee endowed the Harvard Department of Legal Medicine (in 1931, the first such department in the country), and the George Burgess Magrath Library. She also endowed the Harvard Associates in Police Science, a national organization for the furtherance of forensic science that has a division dedicated to her, called the Frances Glessner Lee Homicide School. The Harvard program influenced other states to change over from the coroner system. Through the 1940s and 1950s, Lee hosted a series of semi-annual seminars in homicide investigation. Detectives, prosecutors and other investigators were invited to a week-long conference, where she presented them with the "Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death," intricately constructed dioramas of actual crime scenes, complete with working doors, windows and lights. The 20 models were based on challenging cases and were designed to test the abilities of students to collect all relevant evidence. The models depicted multiple causes of death, and were based on autopsies and crime scenes that Lee visited. She paid extraordinary attention to detail in creating the models. The rooms were filled with working mousetraps and rocking chairs, food in the kitchens, and more, and the corpses accurately represented discoloration or bloating that would be present at the crime scene. Each model cost about $3,000-$4,500 to create. Students were given 90 minutes to study the scene. The week culminated in a banquet at the Ritz Carlton. Eighteen of the original dioramas are still used for training purposes by Harvard Associates in Police Science. For her work, Lee was made an honorary captain in the New Hampshire State Police on October 27, 1943, making her the first woman to join the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Bio courtesy of: Wikipedia

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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Kim Frye
  • Added: 10 Jul 2010
  • Find a Grave Memorial 54755978
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Frances Glessner Lee (25 Mar 1878–27 Jan 1962), Find a Grave Memorial ID 54755978, citing Maple Street Cemetery, Bethlehem, Grafton County, New Hampshire, USA ; Maintained by Find A Grave .