The History of Domestic Violence
Domestic violence is not a recent phenomenon that was only addressed in the late Twentieth Century. The basis for the patriarchal, male dominated society extends back to Biblical times and can be seen in The Bible itself (Genesis 3:16, Ephesians 5:22-23, Num. 5:29-30). Blackstone’s codification of the common law in 1768 asserted that a husband had the right to “physically chastise” an errant wife, provided the stick was no bigger than his thumb (Straus & Gelles, 1986). This patriarchal concept of the right for a husband to chastise his wife with a whip or rattan no bigger than his thumb around was upheld in a Mississippi court in Bradley v. State (1824). However, this was one of only three nineteenth century American appellate court rulings that held that a husband had a right to beat a wife in “moderation” (Sherman, 1992). The structural element of patriarchy can be seen in the low status that women generally held relative to men in the family, and in the economic, educational, political, and legal institutions of the times. The legitimacy of male dominance in the patriarchal society is clearly reflected in the values, beliefs, and norms of the times and American society (Yllo and Straus, 1984).
Balancing these facts is evidence that there are three distinct eras when attempts to outlaw spousal abuse by men have occurred in North America over the past three centuries. In 1642, American Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony drew up their own criminal code, which provided: