In this second article in our series on domestic discipline, we will be looking at the 19th century suffragette (feminist) view of domestic discipline. To do this we will look at two primary sources. The first is the Declaration of Sentiments which was issued from the first woman’s rights conference in 1848 in Seneca Falls, New York.
The second source we will be looking at is a book entitled “History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861”, written by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan Brownell Anthony and Matilda Joslyn Gage in 1881. This book is also a valuable resource in understanding the historical view of domestic discipline. Less than 20 years before this book was published, state courts in America were still upholding a man’s right to use corporal punishment with his wife. It was only in the 1870s that courts began striking down this common law right and later states would begin enacting laws against it.
The Declaration of Sentiments
The Declaration of Independence was America declaring its independence from England and the Declaration of Sentiments was women declaring their independence from men. Below is a portion of the Declaration of Sentiments issued from the first woman’s rights conference in 1848:
“The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her. To prove this, let facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has made her, morally, an irresponsible being, as she can commit many crimes, with impunity, provided they be done in the presence of her husband. In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband, he becoming, to all intents and purposes, her master – the law giving him power to deprive her of her liberty, and to administer chastisement.”
As Bible believing Christians, we can and should recognize the 1848 Declaration of Sentiments for what it was and still is today. A declaration of war on God’s institution of patriarchy. And the sad truth is, that more than 170 years later that war has been mostly won by feminists. Those who still hold to God’s design of patriarchy have been forced into hiding, with their only option to fight a spiritual guerrilla warfare against those who seek to eradicate the last pockets of resistance to the reigning humanist regimes.
“In the covenant of marriage, she is compelled to promise obedience to her husband”
The common laws of the land in this case were strongly aligned with the Word of God as seen in Titus 2:4-5:
“That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, OBEDIENT to their own HUSBANDS, that the word of God be not blasphemed.”
In fact, we can rightly say that the Declaration of Sentiments complaint against women being compelled by common law to be obedient to their husbands was blasphemy against the Word of God.
The Husband is “to all intents and purposes, her master”
Again, the Scriptures are crystal clear on this point calling women to regard their husband’s as their earthly lords (their masters) in 1 Peter 3:5-6:
“For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, who trusted in God, adorned themselves, being in subjection unto their own husbands: Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement.”
The Greek word used in 1 Peter 3:6 is “kurios” which means master. It is used in reference to kings, governors, slave masters, husbands and to God himself in the Bible. All of these masters were authorities instituted by God over different spheres, but God is the LORD and master of all. The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek kurios is “baal” which means “owner, lord, master”.
In Deuteronomy 22:22 we see the following example showing the husband’s ownership over his wife:
“If a man be found lying with a woman married [‘baal’ used as verb] to an husband [‘baal’ used as noun] , then they shall both of them die, both the man that lay with the woman, and the woman: so shalt thou put away evil from Israel.”
The passage above demonstrates that under God’s law a married woman is an owned woman, and her owner is her husband.
The Husbands power “to administer chastisement”
The power to chastise is a critical element of authority. If a person can tell others what to do, but they have no means of enforcing what they have commanded then they really are not an authority. And this is why the early woman’s rights movement targeted the common law recognition of the husband’s right to chastise his wife. If they could remove his power to chastise her, they knew they were effectively removing his authority over her.
History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861
The women who wrote “History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861” lived in the era when wife spanking was still widely practiced and culturally accepted so their perspective is valuable in the historical sense, even with their moral position on the rights of women and husbands chastising their wives being completely unbiblical and wrong.
In pages 88-89 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:
“In those early days a husband’s supremacy was often enforced in the rural districts by corporeal chastisement, and it was considered by most people as quite right and proper – as much so as the correction of refractory children in like manner…The laws made it his privilege – and the Bible, as interpreted, made it is his duty.”
If you go to the average Christian today in the average Christian church, even most conservative evangelical churches, and you started talking about domestic discipline they would have no clue what you are talking about. I know if you would have mentioned it to me 7 or 8 years ago, I would have been one of those people with a blank look. And if you mentioned “wife spanking” they would look at you like you are crazy. I know I would have.
But I am happy to have been challenged on this subject. Because it caused me to really have to research this out. I already showed in my first article in this series on domestic discipline, “The Biblical Case for Domestic Discipline”, that the Bible fully supports two important concepts.
First it supports the concept of corporal punishment for both children and adults. Secondly, it supports husband’s chastening their wives as we see God chastening his wife Israel in the Old Testament and Christ chastening his wife, the church, in the New Testament.
But then we come to the historical side of this. Before the 20th century, most Christians believed according the Bible that husbands had a right and duty to chasten their wives using corporal punishment. The common laws of the land supported this right. And except for the left-wing feminists of the 19th century, Christian women fully accepted this too.
Chastisement Was Seen as Good for A Wife’s Moral Development
On page 599 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:
“By the common law of England, the spirit of which has been but too faithfully incorporated into our statute law, a husband has a right to whip his wife with a rod not larger than his thumb, to shut her up in a room, and administer whatever moderate chastisement he may deem necessary to insure obedience to his wishes, and for her healthful moral development! He can forbid all persons harboring or trusting her on his account. He can deprive her of all social intercourse with her nearest and dearest friends. If by great economy she accumulates a small sum, which for future need she deposit, little by little, in a savings bank, the husband has a right to draw it out, at his option, to use it as he may see fit.”
A husband chastising his wife was seen as a healthy and moral thing for a marriage. But his powers of chastisement were not limited just to corporal punishment. But he could also literally ground his wife as a parent grounds their child and send her to her room. This was the normal accepted practice under common law.
Domestic Discipline Outlawed in the Late 19th Century
On page 792 the History of Woman Suffrage: 1848-1861 states:
“Wife-beating is still so common, even in America, that a number of States have of late introduced bills especially directed to the punishment of the wife-beater. Great surprise is frequently shown by these men when arrested. “Is she not my wife” is cried in tones proving the brutal husband had been trained to consider this relationship a sufficient justification for any abuse.”
“Chastisement” did not have enough sting to it. In fact, even in the late 19th century, the word “chastisement” in America was seen as a positive word. So then feminists went from speaking about husbands chastising their wives to calling men “wife-beaters”. That had a much better ring to it. And they declared that a husband chastising his wife in any form was “abuse”.
Now to be sure, there were some men who took their right to chastise their wives too far causing serious or permanent injuries to their wives. And this of course was the case throughout the history of mankind and was by no means unique to America. But the exact same thing could also be said for parents, whether they were fathers or mothers who chastised their children, that some abused their God given authority to administer corporal chastisement.
But that fact that some husbands abused their power to exercise corporal chastisement did not give civil governments the right to remove this God given power from husbands. What they should have done was deal with those extreme cases on a case by case basis.
In this second article we have shown that the early feminists declared war on Biblical patriarchy from the very beginning of their movement in 1848. They utterly rejected God’s design of male headship over women.
These early feminists or “suffragettes”, knew they had to play on the emotions of the American people to win their cause. And they did exactly that. They found the most extreme and outlandish cases of abuse they could find to bring before courts and state legislators to prove that all men were potential abusers or “wife-beaters” and the only way to protect women from the abuses of men was to completely strip men of their power of corporal chastisement over their wives.
But we also learned something else in this article. Something that husbands and wives of today needed to see. This idea of a husband using corporal punishment to chastise his wife is not some recently invented behavior by some far-right Christians. It is not just some kinky BDSM thing. But rather, before the late 19th century it was the protected law of the land and Christians believed husbands had a Biblical right and duty to exercise corporal chastisement on their wives for the good of their wife’s moral development and the health of their marriages.