Whipping Boys | Bleader

Whipping Boys


Sign up for our newsletters Subscribe


Chicago Tribune, May 3, 1921. If you only know one factoid about the history of domestic violence, I'm guessing it's this: The issue was shrouded in secrecy throughout history until feminism "broke the silence" circa 1970. (If you're from off-planet and have never heard that one before, you can catch up with it here, here, and here.)

That story is true to the extent that the phrase "domestic violence" is of recent coinage, but as for secrecy and silence, fuggedaboutit. Mid-19th- and early 20-century Americans never took a day off from denouncing the ubiquitous evil they called "wife beating." Newspapers excoriated wife beaters in their editorial pages, and in their news columns approvingly reported on punishments exacted upon them by courts of law, rough-justice sheriffs, vigilante committees, neighborhood mobs, and their own suicidal impulses.* Judges across the nation competed for headlines by demonstrating how tough and creative they were about chastising wife beaters. Elected officials from Presidents down to county dog catchers curried favor by calling for ever sterner measures against wife beaters. Mild-mannered clergymen advocated a revival of the whipping post and the pillory, just for wife beaters. In sum, contempt for wife beaters was right up there with the worship of mince pie as a consensus value of day.

The average Jane and Joe in the street warmed to the draconian aspects of the whipping post solution, but a lot of legal and penological minds also touted it as a pragmatic way to target violent husbands without inflicting collateral damage on wives and children, who were economically injured when the household breadwinner faced a fine or jail time
Well, resort to the gallows would take care of the recidivism problem.
"Snappy": Yeah, so to speak.
There's an interesting double standard at work here: You'll only ever see women asserting or implying that some wives were cruising for a bruising from their put-upon husbands. Any dude who talked like this in public in 1921 would have been risking social death or worse.

The whipping post option was never implemented in Illinois, but it was revived just for wife beaters in Maryland, Delaware and Oregon. The State of Maryland was still flogging the occasional wife beater as late as the 1950s. As with capital punishment, black offenders were far more likely to get the lash.

Parenthetically, it strikes me as mildly awesome that a random poll of women on a downtown street should yield a secretary, two dancers, a model, and a magician.
For much more on the unquiet pre-history of domestic violence, follow the wife beating thread at The Hope Chest.


Add a comment