Category Archives: Sexism

1905: Ohio woman asks governor if she may wear trousers

In May 1905, an unnamed woman from southern Ohio wrote to the state’s governor, Myron T. Herrick, requesting “permission to wear trousers”. The woman was single and lived alone so had no father or husband she could ask:

“As reason for the request, she says she is forced to work out of doors in the management of a farm and male attire would be much more convenient for her than petticoats.

Press reports suggest that the governor replied, telling the woman that he could not grant permission for her to wear trousers – but he intended to consult the attorney general with a view to forming “an amendment to the laws to suit such a case”.

Source: The Washington Times, May 7th 1905. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1939: Wife-slapping legal if you don’t kill her, says judge

The issue of whether or not husbands had the right to slap, spank or beat their wives befuddled American judges for much of the early 20th century. A sizeable majority of judges were opposed to domestic violence and dealt with it sternly. There are even two recorded cases of judges leaping the bench and assaulting wife-beaters themselves.

But there were also some notable dissenters. In 1939, a Chicago woman named Mary Kuhar petitioned for divorce from her husband John, a dance band drummer, on the grounds that he often slapped her. But unfortunately, she struck an unsympathetic judge, Philip J. Finnegan of the Circuit Court:

“Judge Finnegan… said it [wife-slapping] wasn’t just legal but also more or less a husband’s marital duty…

‘Under the law’, said Judge Finnegan, ‘cruelty must consist of violence great enough to endanger life. A slap does not endanger life. A man may slap his wife as hard as he wants to, if he doesn’t kill her. If more wives were slapped there would be fewer divorces.’

The judge threw out Mrs Kuhar’s claim, with a warning that “better evidence of cruelty must be presented” for him to grant divorces in the future.

Source: The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg), February 1st 1939. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1657: German woman jailed for not taking childbirth seriously

In 1657, an ecclesiastical court heard charges against Anna Maria Krauth, a married woman from Neckerhausen, near Frankfurt. Krauth had given birth to three stillborn babies in a row. According to several witnesses, including Krauth’s husband, her midwife and the local parson – these stillbirths were “her own doing”, brought about by her bad attitude.

According to their testimony, Krauth had told others that she “had no wish to bear [her husband’s] children” and “did swear, curse and speak of the Devil in her belly” while pregnant. Krauth was also heard to “wish herself dead, drowned in the Neckar [River] or hanged in the gallows at Stuttgart”. Also, when it came to childbirth, Krauth was apparently not enthusiastic enough and unwilling to follow instructions:

“She was without seriousness and did nought but bemoan of her condition…”

Krauth’s husband, an overweight man whose thighs “had the girth that a man usually was on his entire body”, testified that he had tried to “correct” her with beatings, apparently while she was pregnant. To nobody’s surprise, these beatings seemed to make her worse.

The court agreed that Krauth’s fate was her own doing. She was handed a fine and a 10-day stint in prison. Her fate after this is unknown.

Source: Hauptstaatsarchiv Stuttgart, a.209, b.1720, 1657. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1587: Mrs Wanker and the Widow Porker carted for “whoredom”

During the Tudor period, the back-ends of carts often doubled as places of punishment for minor criminals and delinquents. Though the exact origins are unclear, to be dealt with at the rear of a cart marked one’s fall from civilised society. Scores of prostitutes and adulterers were ordered to be “tied to a cart’s arse” and either whipped there or paraded around town for public humiliation.

In 1555, a London man named Manwarynge was “carted to Aldgate with two whores from The Harry, for bawdry and whoredom”. In 1560, “the woman who kept the Bell in Gracechurch” was carted for pimping. Sir Thomas Sothwood, an Anglican priest, was carted for “selling his wife”. In North Carolina, Mary Sylvia was found guilty of blasphemy and “carted about town with labels on her back and breast, expressing her crime”.

Some were also punished for slanders involving carts. Sir Thomas Wyatt was thrown into prison in 1541 for telling others that Henry VIII should be “thrown out of a cart’s arse”.

Another brief but interesting mention of ‘carting’ comes from King’s Lynn, Norfolk, where in 1587:

“John Wanker’s wife and the Widow Porker were both carted for whoredom…”

Source: Benjamin Mackerell, The History and Antiquities of the Flourishing Corporation of King’s Lynn &c., London, 1738. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1633: Women actors are “notorious whores”, writes Prynne

A contemporary drawing of William Prynne, right, apparently being reacquainted with his severed ears

William Prynne (1600-1669) was an English lawyer and writer, famous for his provocative and controversial essays. One of the most Puritan of the Puritans, Prynne was not afraid to take aim at popular figures, culture or conventions.

One of Prynne’s earliest and best known works was Histriomastix, a 1633 attack on just about anything considered fun. Historiomastix strongly criticised parties, masquerade balls, country fairs, mixed dancing, feast days, wakes, sports, even hairstyles and colourful stained-glass windows.

Much of this particular text, however, is a condemnation of theatrical performances and those responsible for them. Plays, Prynne claims are “the chief delight of the Devil”, wanton and immoral displays of debauchery filled with:

“…amorous smiles and wanton gestures, those lascivious complements, those lewd adulterous kisses and embracements, those lustful dalliances, those impudent, immodest painterly passages… they are the very schools of bawdery, real whoredoms, incests, adulteries, etc.”

As to those who regularly attend the theatre, they are:

“…adulterers, adulteresses, whoremasters, whores, bawds, panders, ruffians, roarers, drunkards, prodigals, cheaters, idle, infamous, base, profane, and godless persons.”

Histriomastix was especially severe on actors and actresses. The ranks of male actors, Prynne claimed, were filled with “Sodomites” who spent their time writing love letters and “chasing the tails” of “players boys”. As for actors of the opposite gender, Prynne offered a simple but biting four-word assessment:

“Women actors, notorious whores.”

This anti-thespian tirade soon got William Prynne into trouble. One woman who quite enjoyed masked balls, mixed dancing and the occasional acting role was Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.

The queen had appeared in a speaking role in a prominent play not long after the publication of Histriomastix, and she took Prynne’s slurs personally. In 1634, Prynne was hauled before the star chamber, charged with seditious libel against the queen and others, and found guilty. He was fined £5000, stripped of his academic degrees, given two days in the pillory and sentenced to have the tops of his ears clipped off with shears.

If that wasn’t enough, hundreds of copies of Histriomastix were rounded up and burned before Prynne’s eyes as he languished in the pillory.

Source: William Prynne, Histriomastix, London, 1633. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1965: “Move over, this is your president”

History is replete with stories about the sex lives of US presidents, particularly Warren Harding, John F. Kennedy and Bill Clinton. One president whose bedroom antics have attracted less scrutiny is Kennedy’s successor, Lyndon Johnson.

According to his friends, colleagues and former employees, LBJ had an insatiable sexual appetite, backed by a considerable ego. This appeared to begin at college, where the future president was fond of exposing or waving his penis which he nicknamed “Jumbo”.

During and after his presidency Johnson engaged in scores of dalliances and affairs, fathering at least one illegitimate child. He was notoriously jealous of Kennedy’s reputation with the ladies, once claiming to have “had more women by accident than Jack had on purpose”.

Unlike Kennedy, however, Johnson was devoid of youthful good looks, seductive charm and patience. As a consequence, Johnson’s sexual propositions could be direct and confronting. One rather unnerving example of this was recalled by Carl Rowan, a high-ranking government official during the 1960s, and involved Johnson and a pretty young White House secretary:

“In 1965, when I headed the US Information Agency, I was approached by a shaken White House employee who told me of her first duty trip to the Texas ranch where President Johnson often retreated. She said she awakened in the wee hours of her first night there in terror, certain that someone was in her room. When a little pencil flashlight was shone on her face, she was too terrified to scream. Then she recognised Johnson’s voice saying ‘Move over. This is your president’.”

Intimidated and probably petrified, the woman complied with Johnson’s instruction. According to Rowan, she chose not to make a complaint against the president but did lodge a request a new job out of his reach. Rowan informed the White House and arranged for her to be transferred to the State Department.

Source: Carl Rowan, cited in Buffalo News (New York), January 28th 1998. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1770: Husband disappointed by what lies under wife’s make-up

In the Georgian period, many well-to-do men became paranoid about women using make-up to embellish or even conceal their natural features. There were several apocryphal stories of men marrying statuesque and ravishing beauties, only to discover something much less appealing on the wedding night.

One account comes from a letter-writer to The Spectator in 1711:

“No man was as enamoured as I was of her fair forehead, neck and arms, as well as the bright jet [black] of her hair… but to my great astonishment I find they were all the effect of art. Her skin is so tarnished with this practice that when she first wakes in the morning, she scarce seems young enough to be the mother of [the woman] I carried to bed the night before. I shall take the liberty to part with her at the first opportunity, unless her father will make her portion [dowry] suitable to her real, not her assumed countenance.”

These stories have given rise to one of the enduring historical myths of the period: the so-called Hoops and Heels Act. According to this story, the following bill was raised in the House of Commons in 1770 to prevent women from using costume and cosmetics to lure and entrap unsuspecting husbands:

“Be it resolved that all women of whatever age, rank, profession or degree, whether virgin maids or widows, that after the passing of this Act impose upon and betray into matrimony any of His Majesty’s male subjects, by scents, paints, cosmetics, washes, artificial teeth, false hair, Spanish wool, iron stays, hoops, high-heeled shoes or bolstered hips, shall incur the penalty of the laws now in force against witchcraft, sorcery and such like misdemeanours… and that the marriage, upon conviction, shall stand null and void.”

A great number of historical texts claim this bill was raised in Parliament and either voted down or passed into law. The reality is that no evidence of it can be found in Hansard or other records of parliamentary debate and voting.

Source: The Spectator, April 17th 1711. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1913: Slit skirt lands Edna in the insane asylum

In 1913, a Minnesota newspaper reported that a young lady had been arrested, jailed then sent to an insane asylum – for wearing a slit skirt that showed too much leg:

slitskirt

Source: The Warren Sheaf (Minnesota), October 15th 1913. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1911: Court endorses spankings for talkative wives

In 1911, a St Louis woman named Hannah Yowell sued her husband for divorce, alleging cruelty. According to her testimony, Mr Yowell had risen from bed one night to give her a “good and hard spanking”. She also claimed he attempted to rile her by calling her “redhead”. In the witness box, Mr Yowell confessed to administering the spanking, claiming “the woman needed it”.

According to a press summary of the trial, Mrs Yowell:

“…started talking at 8pm and her tongue was still moving at 2am… [Mr Yowell asked her] to kindly close the gap in her face and go to sleep, or to at least give him a chance to sleep, as he had work to do the next day. The woman kept right on talking and finally the suffering hubby crawled out of bed, lifted his wife out also, dropped her over his knee and gave her an old fashioned spanking.”

The court sided with Mr Yowell and denied his wife’s petition for divorce:

“The provocation was great; no man cares to be kept awake until nearly morning listening to his wife’s learned discourses on the neighbourhood gossip.”

Source: The Daily Ardmoreite, April 23rd 1911. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.

1832: Cumbrian man sells wife for 20 shillings and a dog

In April 1832, a Cumbrian farmer, Joseph Thomson, took his wife into Carlisle with the intention of selling her to “the highest and fairest bidder”. According to a report in the Annual Register, Thomson:

“…placed his wife on a large oak chair with a rope or halter of straw round her neck. He then spoke… “I have to offer to your notice my wife, Mary Anne Thomson… she has been to me only a born serpent. It is her wish as well as mine to part forever… I took her for my comfort and the good of my home, but she has become my tormentor, a domestic curse, a night invasion and a daily devil.”

Having detailed his wife’s apparent faults, Thomson then gave an account of her virtues:

“She can read novels and milk cows… she can make butter and scold the maid; she can sing Moore’s melodies and plain her frills and caps. She cannot make rum, gin or whisky but she is a good judge of the quality from long experience in testing them.”

Thomson’s initial asking price was 50 shillings – but after an hour without offers, he eventually agreed to accept 20 shillings and a Newfoundland dog. The buyer was another farmer, Mr Henry Mears, who left Carlisle with his purchase.

Source: The Annual Register, vol. 3, 1832. Content on this page is © Alpha History 2019-23. Content may not be republished without our express permission. For more information please refer to our Terms of Use or contact Alpha History.