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History of Battered Women


Knowing our history is vital to pursuing our future.  Our history needs to be our guide in making the changes necessary to end the violence.  Violence against women has been sanctioned throughout history.  We need to know the struggles of those who came before us.  By knowing our history we honor their spirits, we keep the flame of justice alive and it brings us to the stark reality that we have much work still to do.  Starting in:

  • 753 BC              During the reign ofRomulus inRome, wife beating is accepted and condoned under The Laws of Chastisement.  Under these laws, the husband has absolute rights to physically discipline his wife.  Since by law, a husband is held liable for crimes committed by his wife, this law was designed to protect the husband from harm caused by the wife’s actions.  These laws permit the husband to beat his wife with a rod or switch as long as its circumference is no greater than the girth of the base of the man’s right thumb, hence “The Rule of Thumb.”
  • 1200 AD            Wife beating is common in Europe and is endorsed by the church as the loving husband’s means of correcting his wife’s faults.
  • 1300 AD            14TH Century, Roman Catholic Church, Rules of Marriage, exhorted Christian husbands to “beat your wives soundly, not out of malice or rage, but out of concern.  For this will be to your benefit and to her spiritual good.”
  • 1600 AD            Battered women shelters, as we know them today, many not have existed until the nineteenth century, but abused women in Europe knew where to hide to escape their batterers – convents may very well have been the first shelters for women trying to escape from the violence of their homes.
  • 1767 AD            British Common Law allows for a man to chastise his wife with a stick no greater than the length from the last joint to the end of the thumb (the rule of thumb).
  • 1871                   Alabama and Massachusetts declare wife beating illegal.
  • 1900s                 Wife beating receives public attention in the United States as it relates to the temperance movement, the social purity movement and the women’s suffrage movement.
  • 1910                   U.S. Supreme Court denied a wife the right to prosecute her husband for assault because to do so “would open the doors of the courts to accusations of all sorts of one spouse against another.”
  • 1950-1960s        Civil Rights and anti-war movements challenge the country and lay the foundation for the feminist movement. 
  • 1970                   The first battered women’s shelter opens in Chiswick, England, by Erin Pizzey.
  • 1971                   The first rape crisis center opens in the United States by the Bay Area Women Against Rape.
  • 1973                   The first battered women’s shelter in the United States opens in St. Paul, Minnesota by the Women’s Advocates.
  • 1974                   Erin Pizzey, author of the first book about domestic violence from a battered women’s perspective, publishes Scream Quietly of the Neighbors Will Hear in England.
  • 1976                   Pennsylvania establishes the first State Coalition Against Domestic Violence and becomes the first state to pass legislation providing for orders of protection for battered women.  Oregonbecomes the first state to legislate mandated arrest in domestic violence cases.
  • 1977                   Emerge, the first counseling program for men who batter, is founded in Boston, Massachusetts, at the request of women working in shelters.
  • 1978                   The United States Commission on Civil Rights sponsors the Consultation on Battered Women.  Issues of Public Policy in Washington, DC.  Over 100 nationally represented women come together to organize around the needs of the newly formed battered women’s movement.  The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) is formed during the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights hearing.  However, feminists did much of the groundwork and careful organizing across the country; specifically, Betsy Warrior and Valle Jones.  Incorporation papers for NCADV are filed in Portland, Oregon.  Laura X begins the work of the National Clearinghouse on Marital Rape by assisting a rape crisis center in Salem, Oregon with the trial of John Rideout –the first U.S. husband tried for a rape he committed on his wife, Greta, while they were living together.  He was acquitted, and then publicly apologized.
  • Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV) was founded by twelve local domestic violence programs to collectively advocate for services, policies and practices that help battered women and contribute to the elimination of domestic violence.
  • 1979                   Over 250 shelters for battered women exist in the United States.
  • 1980                   Joanne Schulman’s research shows that marital rape is legal in 44 states, cohabitant rape in 13 states and date rape in 5 states.  Missouri enacted the Adult Abuse Remedies Law giving battered women civil protection.  Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence is formed.  There are nearly 500 battered women’s shelters in the United States. 
  • 1983                   Over 700 shelters for battered women are in operation across the United States serving 91,000 women and 131,000 children. 
  • 1984                   The Duluth Project is formed in Duluth, Minnesota, to develop a coordinated criminal justice response to domestic violence.  The U.S. Attorney General establishes a Task Force on Family Violence and conducts hearings throughout the country to examine the scope and nature of the problem.  The report spurs Congress to pass the Family Violence Prevention Services Act – the first time federal funds are specifically designated for programs serving battered women and their children.
  • 1985                   Tracey Thurman versus the City of Torrington, Connecticut, becomes the first case heard in federal court of a woman suing city police for having failed to protect her from her husband’s violence which permanently scarred and partially paralyzed her.  She is awarded a 2 million dollar judgment.  The U.S. Surgeon General issues a report identifying domestic violence as a major health problem for women.
  • 1986                   Battered women’s shelters house over 310,000 women and children.  The first Domestic Violence Awareness Month is held in October.  With funds from the Johnson & Johnson Corporation and a national fundraising effort called Shelter Aid, the NCADV establishes the first national toll-free domestic violence hotline.
  • 1989                   There are 1,200 battered women’s programs in the United States that shelter over 300,000 women and children.  U.S. Attorney General C. Everett Koop warns that violence is the number one public health risk to adult women in the United States.
  • 1993                   Violence against women is included as a human rights violation by the United Nations at its International Conference on Human Rights in Vienna.  The World Bank recognizes battering as a significant economic problem in terms of health costs.  Marital rape law and stalking law passed in Missouri.
  • 1994                   The U.S. Congress passes the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) as part of the federal Crime Bill.  VAWA funds services for victims of domestic violence and rape, and provides training to increase police and court officials’ sensitivity to domestic violence.  $1.6 billion was authorized for the years 1994-2000.
  • 1995                   Robert Goben becomes the first person to be prosecuted for possession of a firearm in violation of a domestic violence protection order under the Violence Against Women Act in Lemmon, South Dakota.  Christopher Bailey becomes the first person convicted of a felony under the Violence Against Women Act in crossing state lines (West Virginia and Kentucky) to assault his wife, Sonya Bailey.  An anti-stalking law signed by U.S. President Bill Clinton makes interstate stalking and harassment a federal offense whether or not the victim had obtained a protection order.
  • 2000                   The Violence Against Women Act of 2000 is passed reauthorizing funding for training and services for battered women and their children and creating new programs.   $3.3 billion was authorized for the years 2000-2005.


Safety Alert: Computer use can be monitored and is impossible to completely clear. If you are afraid your Internet and/or computer usage might be monitored, please use a safer computer, call the Opal’s House hotline, and/or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline.

Internet and Computer Safety

  • There are hundreds of ways that computers record everything you do on the computer and on the Internet.
  • If you are in danger, please try to use a safer computer that someone abusive does not have direct access, or even remote (hacking) access to.
  • Use a safer computer. It might be safer to use a computer in a public library, at a community technology center (CTC) [www.ctcnet.org (national directory)], at a trusted friend’s house, or at an Internet Cafe.
  • If you think your activities are being monitored, they probably, are.  Abusive people are often controlling and want to know your every move. You don’t need to be a computer programmer or have special skills to monitor someone’s computer activities – anyone can do it and there are many ways to monitor.
  • Computers can provide a lot of information about what you look at on the Internet, the e-mails you send, and other activities.  It is not possible to delete or clear all computer “footprints”.
  • If you think you may be monitored on your home computer, you might consider no home Internet use or “safer” Internet surfing.  Example: If you are planning to flee to California, don’t look at classified ads for jobs and apartments, bus tickets, etc. for California on a home computer or any computer an abuser has physical or remote access to.  Use a safer computer to research an escape plan.
  • E-mail is not a safe or confidential way to talk to someone about the danger or abuse in your life – please call Opal’s House or the National Domestic Violence Hotline instead.
  • Traditional “corded” phones are more private than cellular phones or cordless phones.

Opal’s House |  P.O. Box 2316  |  East St. Louis, IL 62202  |  (877) 672-5482

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