NU Grad Receives Award for Study of Jane Porter Relics Found in County Courthouse

May 11, 2017  |  by Michael Freedman

Christine Bacon

Christine Bacon

Christine Bacon, a recent graduate of Niagara University’s master’s degree program in interdisciplinary studies, received the Best Capstone Award during a brief ceremony on May 11 in the Dining Commons at NU. The Williamsville resident’s capstone examined a facet of the power industry’s history that was, quite literally, hidden away in a dark courthouse basement for decades.

Bacon’s thesis, Power and Insanity: A Case Study in Niagara Falls, New York, builds an interdisciplinary history based on an old trunk of documents found at the Niagara County Courthouse, labeled “In re: Jane A. Porter Estate.” Handwritten inside the trunk was “Lunacy.” Porter and her sister had inherited significant land holdings in Niagara Falls that left them prey for emerging industrialists by the 1880s.

Dr. Mustafa Gökçek, director of NU’s master’s program in interdisciplinary studies, noted that Bacon’s thesis “revealed fascinating implications for the development of Niagara Falls, hydroelectric power and how lunacy claims were used to effectively subjugate women for various purposes, including economic interests.”

Bacon was intrigued by the old trunk, wondering if the “chest was tucked away, out of sight, because it was in the way of file clerks at the old courthouse. Or, maybe it was hidden away because it blocked the ‘correct light’ that those who authored history in a patriarchal society wanted to tell about the development of electrical power.”

Bacon examined court cases that pertained to Porter’s land holdings and her “lunacy” case, demonstrating how little control she had over her resources and her physical person. Bacon’s thesis contributes to what is still a small representation of Niagara Falls history. Her work calls attention to this historical neglect, and encourages new inquiries into the wider story of Porter and others whose land was coveted by the “power” men. It also adds to the story of diagnosing “hysteria” in women who fell outside of societal expectations, as well as depictions of women in American society today.

The thesis committee was chaired by Dr. Shannon M. Risk, associate professor of history, and supported by Dr. Thomas Chambers, professor of history, and Dr. Gökçek, who also serves as an associate professor of history. All are Niagara University faculty members.

Upon graduating, Bacon will begin working as a program and interpretation specialist in a joint position for the Niagara Falls National Heritage Area and the Niagara Falls Underground Railroad Heritage Area. She has built a post-law career in the field of public history, also working with the Theodore Roosevelt Inaugural Site and at Oakwood Cemetery in Niagara Falls.

To learn more about Niagara University’s master’s program in interdisciplinary studies, please visit www.niagara.edu/mais. Questions about the program or capstone thesis may be directed to Dr. Gökçek at ude.aragainnull@keckoG.