The Abolition of Corporal Punishment in New Jersey Schools
Donald R. Raichle
In 1867 New Jersey became the first state to abolish corporal punishment in its schools by statute and remained the only state to do so for more than a hundred years. Not until 1972 when Massachusetts passed equivalent legislation was she emulated by any sister state.1 The unique statutory restraint in New Jersey appeared as a relatively minor element of a widereaching law which sought to strengthen a school system that had not yet attained development comparable to that of other states. Not that the legislature went very far, for even in 1867 the law neither compelled the establishment of schools nor children to attend them. Still, the additional funds provided state-wide coordination, and more sophisticated administration showed that New Jersey had embarked on its most ambitious state school project up to that time. New Jersey's reluctance to provide the educational system sought by the schoolmen was pointed up in the addition of the ban on corporal punishment to the then new school law. It was no coincidence that the statutory ban came exclusively in New Jersey; it illustrated the gap between the schoolmen on the one hand and the citizens and legislators on the other. For, however popular the ban may have been among parents it found virtually no support among educators.
Of course, the mitigation of corporal punishment per se was nothing new as the nineteenth century progressed. Throughout the country schools increasingly found themselves circumscribed in the time-honored use of the rod. The unique feature in New Jersey was the prohibition by statute rather than the more familiar state or local school board regulation. Whatever the method, Americans grew increasingly reluctant to wreak physical pain routinely on their children. Lloyd deMause, arguing a progressive improvement in child care through two thousand years of Western history,2 is certainly borne out in the United States experience. In colonial Connecticut
This essay first appeared in the History of Childhood Quarterly: The Journal of Psychohistory, II, no. 1 (Summer 1974), 53-78.