Frances Glessner Lee (1878–1962) is one of only a few Women's L Project honorees who was born into wealth. She was privately tutored in general academics as well as the domestic arts including the craft of making miniature rooms—a skill she’d use later in life. After touring Europe and making her Chicago society debut, she married a lawyer and had three children.
Glessner Lee’s life began to pivot from the classic socialite lifestyle when she and her husband divorced. She moved into her family’s summer home in New Hampshire where she connected with a family friend who introduced her to the field legal medicine (later to be called forensic science). Using the craft she had learned as a girl, Glessner Lee began creating detailed miniature crime scenes that featured precise blood splatters, exact positioning of deceased bodies, toppled furniture and bullet holes. A bit morbid? Perhaps but Glessner Lee’s “Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death” were used in law enforcement training in the 1940's when she made them and are still used today.
Glessner Lee founded the Harvard University Associates in Police Science program, was appointed as New Hampshire’s first female police captain, was the first female member of the International Association for Chief’s of Police and is considered the “Mother of Forensic Science.” When she was in her 80's, Glessner moved from her large house into a small purple trailer on her New Hampshire property. Yes, she completed her life living in a miniature home.
Why this stop? The Cermak/McCormick Place Green Line station is 5 blocks from the Glessner House, an architectural gem of a home where Lee grew up.
Watch this short video from the Smithsonian to learn more about Frances Glessner Lee and to see some of her dioramas of crime scenes.
Examine four Nutshell Studies online to see how they are used to train police officers and detectives.
Listen to a great WhatsHerName podcast about Frances Glessner Lee.
Connect—Visit the Glessner House, the interesting and unusual childhood home of Frances Glessner Lee and (beginning 3/26/22) see a recreation of the “Unpapered Bedroom”—one of the Nutshell Studies.
Photo courtesy of the Glessner House.