History of Battered Women’s Movement

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.

History of the Battered Women’s Movement

753 BC During the reign of Romulus in Rome, 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 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 Battered women shelters, as we know them today, may 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 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.”
1950-60s 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 or 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. Oregon becomes 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 US 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 US husband tried for a rape he committed on his wife, Greta, while they were living together. He was acquitted, and then publicly apologized.
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. St. Martha’s Hall, a shelter for abused women and their children, is opened in St. Louis Missouri.
1984 The Duluth Project is formed in Duluth, Minnesota, to develop a coordinated criminal justice response to domestic violence. The US 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 US 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. US 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 US 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 US 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.

Much of the information presented here was compiled from the archives of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV).