Ruth Ellis was the last woman to be hanged in Britain. On April 10, 1955, in front of witnesses, she shot and killed her lover, David Blakely, and was immediately arrested and imprisoned. In so many other ways, however, her life was similar to those of many aspirational women of the working classes in postwar Britain; she achieved notoriety because of the murder and execution. This essay uses archives of press photography to examine the diverse ways in which Ellis constructed her identity and was represented to the public as a sexualized woman. It attempts a feminist encounter with the visual archive—an encounter not only with an individual woman but also, and as importantly, with 1950s sex, sexuality, class, and violence.

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