'For Every Wrong There is a Remedy': Changing Law and Fleeing Wives in Nineteenth-Century America
149 Pages Posted: 21 Dec 2011
Date Written: December 19, 2011
Wife abuse was much in the public eye in the nineteenth century. Throughout the century a large but unknown number of wives sought to preserve their lives by abandoning their homes. It was never easy, but at least some were not themselves abandoned by the courts, which dealt with the many issues raised: for example, whether relatives and neighbors were allowed to assist them and even encourage them to flee. Fortunately, the American Revolution inspired a judicial belief that problems could be solved. Equity courts flourished and the chancellors who presided felt comfortable acting where the law was silent. More and more over the course of the century, and over a widening area, chancellors and common law judges could be heard to denounce both wife abuse and the abusers. By the end of the century, they had come to reject any notion that a wife’s provocation justified or excused abuse, that one who was not without fault forfeited her right to be free from violence, that staying with an abuser was condonation. Through judicial activism, some wives found safety and support.
Keywords: wife abuse, equity, abandonment, assault, battery, provocation, condonation, ecclesiastical courts, DeSaussure
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