“The Catholic Church’s endorsement of “The Rules of Marriage” in the 15th century exhorted the husband to stand as judge of his wife. He was to beat her with a stick upon her commission of an offense. According to the “Rules,” beating showed a concern for the wife’s soul.
The common law in England gave a man the right to beat his wife in the interest of maintaining family discipline. The phrase “rule of thumb” referred Domestic Abuse to the English common law, which allowed a husband to beat his wife as long as he used a stick that was no bigger than his thumb. (Violence Against Women 1994). Women were not the only ones subject to abuse. In 18th Century France, if it became public that his wife had beaten a man, he was forced to wear an outlandish costume and ride backwards around the village on a donkey. (www.vix.com/men/battery/commentary). In early America, English law greatly affected the decisions of the colonial courts.
The Puritans openly banned family violence. The laws, however, lacked strict enforcement. It was not until the 1870’s that the first states banned a man’s right to beat his family. The laws were moderately enforced until the feminist movement of the 1960’s started bringing the problems of domestic abuse to the attention of the media. By the 1980’s most states had adopted legislation regarding domestic violence. (Violence Against Women 1994).”