Kathleen Cairns

Lecturer, History


  • California
  • Depression era (California and U.S.)
  • Crime
  • Media
  • Women

Contact Information

About Kathleen Cairns

Dr. Kathleen Cairns is a lecturer (retired annuitant) in the History/Women's & Gender Studies Departments at Cal Poly. She holds a Ph.D in history from the University of California, Davis. Her research interests include popular culture and media; women and crime; women in law and California history. She is the author of four books: "Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950;" "The Enigma Woman: The Death Sentence of Nellie May Madison;" "Hard-Time at Tehachapi: California's First Women's Prison;" and "Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America." She is currently working on a book about former California Chief Justice Rose Elizabeth Bird and her role in politicizing the judiciary. Before entering academics, she spent a decade as a reporter for Knight-Ridder newspapers. 


  • Ph.D. University of California, Davis (1995)
  • B.A. (1976), M.A. (1989) History, California State University, Long Beach

Selected Publications and Presentations

Conference papers, 2007-08

  • “Murder Most Feminine,” Berkshire Conference of Women Historians, June 2008, Minneapolis, MN.
  • “Woman to Woman, Class, Conflict and the Tehachapi Prison Experience in California.” Western Association of Women Historians, San Diego, May. 
  • “Writing for their Lives, ‘The Clarion’ and Female Inmates at the California Institution for Women, Tehachapi.” Western History Association, Oklahoma City, OK, October.


  • Proof of Guilt: Barbara Graham and the Politics of Executing Women in America, University of Nebraska Press (2013).
  • Hard Times: The History of the California Institution for Women, Tehachapi, 1933-1952. University of New Mexico Press (2009).
  • The Enigma Woman: The Death Penalty of Nellie May Madison, University of Nebraska Press (May 2007).
  • Front-Page Women Journalists, 1920-1950, University of Nebraska Press (May 2003).


  • “Writing for Their Lives,” Western Legal History (Fall, 2008).
  • “Enigma Woman: Nellie Madison, Femme Fatales and Noir Fiction,” Montana, the Magazine of Western History(Spring 2004).            

Organizational Memberships

  • Western Association of Women Historians
  • Western History Association


  • HIST 208 – California History
  • HIST 322 – Twentieth Century America
  • HIST 435 – Women’s History
  • HIST 440 – Special Topics

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