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Intimate Partner Violence in New OrleansGender, Race, and Reform, 1840-1900$

Ashley Baggett

Print publication date: 2017

Print ISBN-13: 9781496815217

Published to University Press of Mississippi: May 2019

DOI: 10.14325/mississippi/9781496815217.001.0001

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“Strike Me If You Dare”

“Strike Me If You Dare”

Abused Women of New Orleans and the Right to Be Free from Violence

(p.63) Chapter Three “Strike Me If You Dare”
Intimate Partner Violence in New Orleans

Ashley Baggett

University Press of Mississippi

Abstract and Keywords

After the Civil War, gender and racial expectations remained fluid. The antebellum social hierarchy could not be completely resurrected and the postbellum society could only function with some sort of reciprocity. These expectations changed on every level- from courtship to common law marriage to legal marriage. Women of New Orleans demanded the right to be free from violence.

Keywords:   Gender norms, Race, Postbellum, Marriage, New Orleans

I asked my wife where my dinner was, and she [asked] where I had been all day long. I said, “Give me my dinner.” … I kicked the chair in the street. … My wife said, “You shit, strike me if you dare.”

—Sylvester Conlon, State v. Sylvester Conlon, 1884

In September 1884, Sarah Conlon of New Orleans demanded to know where her husband Sylvester had been all day, and when he threatened to become violent, she refused to back down. She challenged him, saying: “Strike me if you dare.”1 After he struck her, a neighbor overheard Sarah promise that “she would fix him for that,” and she did.2 Sylvester Conlon spent time in jail and lost his family because Sarah vowed never to return to his household with their child. The fluid gender expectations after the Civil War created an opportunity for women to renegotiate relationships with men, as shown with this white couple. The postbellum years prompted female agency to combat the problem of intimate partner violence. While not all women were as bold as Sarah Conlon, women generally saw abuse as a violation of men’s duties, and many demanded that their rights be upheld.

In contrast to claims made by some previous studies of the period, New Orleans women in the postbellum period pushed for the right to be free from violence. Linda Gordon, in Heroes of Their Own Lives, for instance, examines northern women in the same time period and argues that “many women clients did not seem to believe they had a ‘right’ to freedom from violence” even if they morally condemned abuse and fought against it.3 In contrast, while most New Orleans women did not verbally articulate a “right” to not be abused, their actions insinuated such a mentality. The very act of pressing (p.64) charges suggests that they believed the abuse was wrong and that violence was an unacceptable behavioral choice. In 1881, Betty Williams stated in her testimony: “He hit me on Saturday night … and this is the reason I had him arrested.”4 Betty’s statement seems so simple. Arguably, she wanted protection, but in going to court and pressing charges, Betty Williams asserted her belief that husbands cannot abuse their wives. She did not drop the charges, and her husband, George, stayed in jail for twenty-four hours for his attack. Although George might not have changed his ways, Betty’s actions suggest a shift in social attitudes about intimate partner violence.


Ultimately, intimate partner violence rested on the issues of power and dominance, which is why the renegotiation of gender roles emboldened women to attack the male privilege of chastisement. As Elizabeth Janeway perceptively states, although it is not the only method, “sex is the most intensely stressed physiological fact that has been used to distance a group from power by ranking its members low.”5 Abuse aimed at asserting or maintaining the dominance of those in power, who in the late nineteenth century were, in general, men. Since legally and socially the male sex held positions of authority in relationships with women, even men of color and poorer socioeconomic status who had relatively little power in society could exert influence in their own home.6 Many Orleans Parish cases in the postbellum era demonstrate blatant male displays of power. In 1885, John Heir, a white male, told his wife, Elise, not to go outside, but she went to tend to her garden anyway. He responded by beating her. In her testimony, Elise stated:

He said you go nowhere or I will kill you. … He come and cursed me for all the dirty names. … He held me by the throat … and then he slapped me in the face … [and] in the mouth with his hand, and then he pushed me down and come out with a stick of wood and hit me again in the side … and he kicked me too.7

She testified that he had had a hard day at work and was contentious upon his return home. John provided no reason why he did not want her to work in the garden, but when she disobeyed him, he flew into a rage and viciously beat her. Perhaps he felt that he had the right to “chastise” his wife with physical punishment, or perhaps he sought a compensatory form of power at home because of his problems at work. Regardless, John Heir’s actions suggest that he sought to feel powerful by abusing his wife.

(p.65) In another instance involving a white couple, Annie Hannewinckle charged Gust, her husband of twenty years, with assault and battery. The incident started over a debate about money while they were sitting on the front porch with their three children. Gust called Annie a “damn so and so,” to which she responded that he should be ashamed of calling her a name and had “no reason to be growling like that.”8 Gust threatened her by yelling: “I’ll show you what I am growling about,” and then put his threat into action by hitting her.9 Annie had openly questioned Gust’s financial affairs as well as his language in front of their children. In doing so, she threatened his role as head of the household, his ability to provide for the family, and his decision making. Gust retaliated first by verbally insulting his wife and then by physically abusing her. The entire incident took place in the presence of the children, asserting his dominance and driving the lesson home that he was in charge.

In a similar situation, Lizzie Hill confronted her husband, Jeffery, which led to his reassertion of power through violence. Lizzie accused Jeffery of carrying on an affair with another woman, and she demanded that he end it. Jeffery defiantly told her that he would “have” the other woman and that Lizzie could do nothing to prevent it.10 In the altercation, Jeffery demanded to know where his clothes were so he could go spend the night with his mistress. As Lizzie showed him, he hit and then choked her. Somehow during the attack, she escaped. Jeffery’s adultery may have been many things, but it strongly suggests that he believed that he held power in his ability to beat and cheat on his legal wife, even if it made her miserable. He did not recognize marriage as a union intended to make both partners happy. His pleasure superseded her needs, and his dominance mattered more than her emotional and physical well-being.

Anxiety over men’s loss of power over women and women’s more public roles dominated the period, and some men lashed out in a desperate attempt to hold onto what had previously been a male privilege. Still, the fluidity in male and female expectations permitted some changes in the roles of men and women. Even if not witnessing a complete gender revolution, many women spoke out against their abusive partners and demanded that their families, the community, and the legal system change the existing notions of power, which now had to be renegotiated. (p.66)

Table 3.1 Plaintiffs in Intimate partner violence Cases in Orleans Parish, 1880–1889


Number of IPV Cases

Percentage of IPV Cases

Abused Women



District Attorney



Community/Family Member



As shown in table 3.1, the overwhelming majority (89 percent) of plaintiffs in intimate partner violence cases in the 1880s were abused women who brought their violent partners to court.11 Abused women—not family members, the police, or other witnesses—pressed charges. This statistic supports the argument that women internalized messages from the Civil War and the need to renegotiate rights within their relationships with men. Consequently, the male right of chastisement lost favor as women asserted their right to be free from violence. From courtship to cohabitation to legal marriage, women demanded this right to be free from violence in every type of intimate relationship with men.


As gender expectations were being redefined, courtship rituals shifted. In the antebellum period, southerners initially relied on family and community organizations, particularly churches, to help them on the path to matrimony. With a guardian’s consent, men would call on intended partners, and, under the watchful eyes of a chaperone or parent, the couple would get to know each other. The man typically bestowed compliments and small gifts upon his intended until he declared his feelings. Then, the man and the woman’s guardian arranged the marriage.

After the Civil War, courtship changed drastically. One of the most noticeable differences involves the role of love in romantic relationships. As historian Karen Lystra argues, intimate relationships in the postbellum era centered on the notion of love, and emotion mattered.12 Women increasingly wanted men to prove their love, and many engineered challenges for men to solve as testament to their affection.13 In the late 1800s, then, romantic love took precedence over other factors affecting women’s reasons for marrying. Wealth, companionship, social status, and family consent still mattered to many women, but now to a lesser degree than love. Women expected reciprocity in the form of mutual affection.

The influence of new gender expectations further altered courtship rituals by permitting women to assert themselves in a variety of ways. For example, some white women in the rural South resurrected an old Irish tradition that allowed women to propose marriage in leap years, and they took advantage of it.14 Twenty-year-old Thelia Bush from Louisiana noted in a letter, “there will be a great many more weddings before this year is out for you know this is leap year and the young ladies will have a fair chance to go to see the young men.”15 According to Bush, women not only proposed to men on leap year but (p.67) also looked forward to it. Generally, brief breaks from a traditional hierarchy of gender or class act as a safety valve to release anxiety over power.16 The leap year tradition in the postbellum South served that purpose. With masculine authority in abeyance, women could assert themselves in a controlled manner through the leap year proposals.

African American women who courted in rural areas often relied on family and the larger community. Religion was the backbone of much of the black community, and churches offered good meeting places for couples. Ruth McEnery Stuart’s short story “Jessekiah Brown’s Courtship,” published in 1893, discussed courtship rituals among African Americans in rural Louisiana.17 Jessekiah—also known as Ki or Brer Brown—was a forty-year-old bachelor of decent means.18 Dressed smartly in a silk hat and with a “gorgeous walking cane,” he “enjoyed the double distinction of being the fattest man and the oldest bachelor of his color on the plantation.”19 He courted women, brought them flowers, and talked to them on their front porches, but he dodged marriage for years. Older woman of the town teased Jessekiah, telling him that he would eventually settle down with “Fat Ann,” a woman of similar stature, and the two were frequently thrown together at the Methodist church they attended. During the church’s cakewalk one year, the congregation partnered Ki and Ann, much to Ki’s chagrin. He resigned himself to marriage and asked God to bring him someone. After waiting a few months, he saw a woman along the levee and was smitten, only to discover that it was none other than Ann. He threw himself down the hill of the levee after the realization. In Ann’s attempt to help, she quite literally stumbled over Ki, launching both of them into the river. They then began to talk. She commiserated with him over the loneliness of singlehood, and Ki was overwhelmed with emotion for Ann as he realized that God and the community had been right about the two of them all along. After an elaborate proposal he prepared, Ann agreed to marry him, and the community rejoiced in their relationship.20

Throughout the story, Jessekiah Brown depicts the central role the church played in courtship among African Americans. Jessekiah’s clothes or financial status did not fully determine his standing in his peers’ eyes. Rather, his faith and involvement as a Christian earned him a respectable status. His relationship with his peers, moreover, was conducted in and around the church and its functions. Sunday service and the cakewalk forced Ki and Ann to become more intimately acquainted with each other, and from that grew deeper emotions. Only through religion, the story argues, did Jessekiah find God’s intended for him and experience true love. The story further illustrates the authority the community held. Their insistence kept him from marrying a beautiful, young woman he had previously courted and encouraged a (p.68) fondness to grow between Ki and Ann. His peers felt that he “belonged” with Ann because of their similarities, such as their age and weight. In this way, the community taught Ki to keep within his “station” as determined by physical attractiveness and age. Partially due to limited opportunities to travel outside the watchful eyes of family, the rural South clung to tradition and older forms of courtship.

Courtship, however, changed more drastically in the city. Americans during the antebellum period had taken pride in local autonomy. Communities determined their own policies and value systems with little involvement from the rest of the country, but, as historian Robert Wiebe states, these “island communities” witnessed a gradual loss of influence and power.21 With increasing numbers of women working, mechanized transportation, and recreational facilities, courtship no longer took place on the front porch, particularly among the lower-income socioeconomic classes. Parents generally could not control their children’s movements or curb the desire for “mixed-sex fun.”22 Public places blossomed in urban areas, including New Orleans, and changed relationships between men and women.

In 1882, New Orleanian Peter Johnson expressed frustration over the shift. He saw his daughter with a man and ran to stop them from continuing their outing. Johnson testified, “I went up to the place where they were and caught them in the act. She broke and run. … I told him he need not run that all I wanted was my daughter.”23 Clearly, Johnson lacked complete power over his daughter and her relationships with men, and he went so far as to try to physically separate the two. Even if unsuccessful, his attempt demonstrated a desire to cling to older forms of influence in courtship. Parental worry over the loss of control was also depicted in children’s stories. Charles Bennett’s The Frog Who Would a Wooing Go is a southern tale about a frog who would not listen to his mother’s advice on whom to marry. Instead of finding another frog, he pursues a mouse. The story ends with a cat eating his friend the rat, a kitten eating his intended the mouse, and a duck eating him. Obviously, the moral of the story was for children to listen to their parents about courting.24 The change in courtship rituals created anxieties over parental authority, but in an urban setting families waged a losing battle and could not maintain the control they once had. Young women, particularly in cities, often took to deciding upon their spouses based on romantic love and without their family’s consent.

Women entered the public sphere more and more frequently, increasing their contact with the opposite sex. Without the watchful eyes of parents, these women developed intense emotional bonds with men of their own choosing, adopting “shared identities” as couples.25 This forging of bonds included (p.69) a power dynamic. Many women, such as Lizzie Hill, whose story is recounted at the beginning of this chapter, went out with groups of female friends to listen to musical performances and met up with men. They rode streetcars and enjoyed the nightlife. But this desire for leisure time and “mixed-sex fun” placed women in vulnerable positions. As historian Kathy Peiss discusses, women often made less money than men and relied on their male companions to “treat” them to an evening of fun. Men paid for dinner, drinks, and dance tickets or whatever outing was planned, and they expected a return. As a result, “treating” often required some form of sexual compensation.26 Women were then left with a “sexual debt.”27 Pressure for sexual favors created a situation in which women’s autonomy could be threatened and their partners could become violent to maintain their sense of control. Some boyfriends ignored the new definitions of manhood and felt entitled to “chastise” or control their female partners.

In the summer of 1887, Eliza McRea of New Orleans had been seeing Willie Hennessey but refrained from becoming sexual with him. One evening, he followed her as she came out of her house. McRea testified: “[H]e said ‘where are you going?’ I told him I was going to my aunt’s. He came up to me and asked if I was going to sleep with him. I said no. [Then] he hauled off and punched me in the eye.”28 Hennessey felt entitled to some sexual remuneration and a certain level of control over McRea. She, however, asserted herself, denying him complete power in the relationship. Instead of having sex with Hennessey as so-called payment for the outing or passively accepting the beating, McRea refused Hennessey on both accounts. She, moreover, believed that she was entitled to legal protection even if she had been “treated” by Hennessey, and McRea exhibited new gender expectations by displaying a level of autonomy and pressing charges against her abuser.29

Intimate partner violence during courtship often erupted when a woman disagreed with her boyfriend. Sometimes the disagreement could be as simple as not wanting to go out that evening. When John Green called on his girlfriend, Rosetta Williams, she told him that she did not feel up to leaving her New Orleans home. Green responded by grabbing her arm and hitting her. He seemingly could not tolerate “no” from the woman he was courting, which demonstrates Green’s sense of power and privilege. Williams, however, illustrated new gender expectations. Her refusal to go out that evening suggests a right to act as she would like without being told what to do by her boyfriend. Williams’s actions also indicate a right to be free from violence by having Green arrested for his abusive actions.30 As evidenced by McRae and Williams, new courtship rituals did not maintain antebellum notions of male power and privilege.

(p.70) Sometimes, intimate partner violence in courtship was less in the heat of the moment and more a premeditated act to exert power, but even in systemically abusive courtships, women demanded the right to be free from violence. In 1887, George Samuels followed Emma Conrad through the streets, harassing her on several occasions. After one intense verbal altercation, Conrad stopped by New Orleans’s Fourth Police Precinct and asked an officer for protection. She said: “You would see me home. I am in trouble.”31 When pushed for more information, Conrad told the police officers that Samuels, who she said was her former boyfriend, was following her again and had threatened to beat her. A police sergeant named Klotter agreed to walk her home, and once they reached her house, Samuels arrived on the scene with a friend and yelled at Conrad. The officer sent him home and advised her that the best thing she could do was go to bed. Despite his assurances, Sergeant Klotter noticed that she was still very frightened. Conrad’s fear was well founded. She later testified that Samuels returned two hours later with his friend, came into her home, snatched her from her bed, and beat her until she was unconscious.32

Samuels shadowed Conrad’s movements all afternoon on May 20, 1886, intimidating and harassing her. His actions were a premeditated act of violence intended to break her emotionally and physically. He told her: “You got the best of me [by breaking up first],” and the loss of control sent him on a frenzied quest to regain the upper hand. His attempt to exert dominance did not stop at the beating. During the court testimony, Samuels’s lawyer cross-examined Conrad and tried to clear his client of any responsibility by asking: “Are you not subject to epileptic fits?”33 She flippantly responded, “Only when I get hit.”34 Despite months of emotional and physical abuse, Conrad believed that she had the right to be courted free from abuse. She expected the police to protect her from a potential act of violence from a man she had been seeing by demanding: “You would see me home.”35 When Samuels denied responsibility for his actions, she still held him accountable by pressing charges and remaining firm about his guilt in her testimony. The changes in gender expectations and courtship rituals, as Conrad demonstrated in the court case, meant that men could not wield unchecked violence against women.

As shown in the Samuels case, some men refused to accept a woman’s decision to end a relationship and thereby cause the man to lose power. The case of Emma Starks, an African American woman, further illustrates this clash between old and new views of gender expectations. On November 10, 1881, Starks was enjoying an evening out with a female friend. They met up with the men they were seeing at the time, and the two couples gambled and danced at the Keno Room in New Orleans.36 After a few hours, they left, and Starks spotted her ex, Andrew Williams. She knew that being in the company of other (p.71) men would create an issue with Williams, and so the two women and two men went their separate ways. Starks and her female friend walked quickly together toward their homes until Williams ran up to them, punched Starks, and then tried to stab her. She pressed charges, which resulted in him spending four days in jail.

Throughout all of it, Starks displayed independence. She spent evenings out on the town, passed time in the company of different men, and filed suit against her attacker. In her testimony, she stated: “I used to have him,” indicating a sense of ownership of her past lover.37 Her case attests to the amount of power she held in the relationship as well as the desire to be free of his continued and unwanted abuse. Single women like Starks became more autonomous in the postbellum period, participating in leisure activities and the workforce. As they did so, many took pride in their emerging sense of self, and as women exerted this new autonomy, they upheld the right to be free from violence in courtship.

Engaged women asserted the same right to be free from abuse as did women being courted. In a similar situation to Emma Conrad’s, Ada Wheeler attempted to break off her relationship with her fiancé, Morris Hamilton. She had been lying down on the porch of her house when Hamilton approached. He entered the house and asked her to come inside, but she refused. He barked back, “No, come inside. I don’t want to tell my business to everybody.”38 Still, she would not accede to his wishes, and, in the presence of neighbors, Wheeler said: “Here Morris, there is your ring. I don’t love you no more and I don’t want to carry it [the engagement] out anymore.”39 He asked her if she truly meant it. After confirming that she did not love him, he pulled out a pocket knife, attacked her, and cut her hand.

Hamilton could not accept that his fiancée would leave him, at least not of her own will. He had developed strong feelings for Wheeler during their courtship, which exemplified how, by the late 1800s, men and women felt more free to demonstrate their affection, even outside of marriage. When he lost his shared identity with his fiancée, Hamilton turned to violence, endangering her life after hearing her emphatic claim that she had stopped loving him. Wheeler, on the other hand, exhibited new gender expectations by upholding romantic love as the primary reason for marriage. When she no longer cared for Hamilton, she ended the engagement. Wheeler also displayed the new gender expectations by acting with autonomy. She refused Hamilton’s wishes to keep the argument private and refused that power in the relationship be his alone. When attacked, she pressed charges, and, despite his claim that someone else had forced her to do it, Wheeler insisted that she alone filed the complaint and wished to prosecute. Through their (p.72) collective actions, the pair exhibited the new power dynamics that accompanied emerging gender expectations.

In New Orleans, courtship rituals changed in ways that gave women more independence in their intimate relationships with men. Women more frequently chose boyfriends and fiancés who reciprocated romantic feelings of love. Power, more importantly, could not be held solely by men. Women expected a say in a relationship free from abuse. When their partners violated these expectations, women often chose to end the relationship and demand punishment for these men who had transgressed the new gender roles.

Common Law Marriage

In the antebellum era, some states began to recognize marriages in which individuals privately exchanged vows or cohabitated openly as husband and wife. These common law marriages were often found in rural areas in the nineteenth century, where records were kept more sporadically than in cities, and among the poorer socioeconomic classes, who lacked the monetary means to contract a marriage. As the legal system sought to make marriage more accessible to the entire American population, courts generally followed the principle of “maxim semper prasesumitur pro matrimonio” (the assumption is always in favor of matrimony).40 But, in the 1870s, common law marriages came under attack.

Purity reformers and evangelicals pushed to regulate marriage even more than it had been before.41 Proponents of stricter marriage requirements felt that acknowledging common law marriage encouraged moral depravity by condoning couples living together and engaging in extramarital sex. Not surprisingly, they believed that the government in general and legislation in particular should be used to enact the change. The state, they argued, could and should intervene, even in what had previously been considered private affairs. Contemporary sociologist George Elliott Howard stated: “[Y]ou can make people better by law. … A good marriage law is prevention—social prophylaxis.”42 Some believed that denying the legality of common law marriage would be enough. Others supported stricter requirements for marriage celebrations, including who could officiate and how many guests should be present. The movement for marital reform gained a broad backing among religious conservatives and women’s rights advocates, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton believed that stricter marital requirements would prevent unions without a woman’s consent or full understanding, and, coupled with more liberal divorce laws, these changes would keep women from being (p.73) trapped in bad marriages. Proponents of the social purity movement did not agree with Stanton’s logic, but they worked together for marital change. Whether for women’s interests or moral uplift, many Americans supported reforming the legal system’s view of marriage.43

Detractors argued that increased regulation of nuptial celebrations would disproportionately influence poorer socioeconomic classes and people of color. Without funds to purchase the marriage license or pay the officiant, poor couples would continue to live together without the rights and privileges associated with the legal institution of marriage. This, critics of the proposals argued, would be to the detriment of society.44 Most of their complaints stemmed not from a desire for equality but rather from fiscal conservatism. Property and children were at the top of their list of concerns. Children born in these unions would be illegitimate and deprived of the mandatory support of the father, and successions and property would also be denied to the widows and heirs. Financial responsibility for these children would then fall to the community or state. All of society, those opposed to marital reform argued, would suffer.45

People of color would also be impacted by the proposed changes. Although some African Americans rushed to have their marriages legalized and protected after the war, numerous others feared that white expectations would be imposed on their marriages if made legal, specifically the ability to end these relationships. Those who were wary of negative consequences kept their relationships outside of legal sanctions in what historian Nancy Bercaw calls “taking up and sweethearting.”46 Sometimes, a relationship involved simply a sexual or financial arrangement, but “taking up” or “sweethearting” could include a private vow between the couple, which was viewed in the African American community as a form of marriage. Courts often did not recognize this variation of marriage. Despite serious disapproval, many states enacted stricter legislation on what constituted a legal marriage, thereby outlawing common law marriages.47

Louisiana rarely recognized common law marriages even before the marital reform movement. As early as its territorial days, Louisiana passed legislation acknowledging marriage as a civil contract that was made when the parties were “willing to contract, able to contract, and did contract pursuant to the forms and solemnities prescribed by law.”48 The Civil Code remained vague about what was deemed a marriage “ceremony,” but consent was crucial. If either party was forced by violence, if the woman was raped and not yet “restored to the enjoyment of liberty,” or if either person misrepresented him or herself, then the marriage would be rendered invalid.49 Marriage ceremonies, however, could not be performed by just anyone. Articles 102 and 103 (p.74) of the code specify that only justices of the peace, parish judges, “minister[s] of any gospel, or priest[s] of any religious sect” could perform the ceremony, provided they abided by the law, including presenting a “special license issued by a parish judge.”50 Essentially, for marriage to be legitimate in Louisiana, the state required consent, licensure, and an approved official to perform the ceremony. By 1877, the state legislature of Louisiana added another article in the Civil Code requiring at least three witnesses (all over the age of twenty-one).51

In the late 1800s, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Arizona, Florida, Indiana, Utah, Colorado, Nebraska, Nevada, Kansas, Montana, Idaho, Texas, and (to some degree) Wyoming recognized common law marriage.52 Louisiana—like much of the South—did not follow suit. Louisiana honored common law marriages created in states that legally recognized such unions, but common law marriages formed within the state of Louisiana rarely held up in civil court.53 Still, even if judges did not formally recognize common law marriages, people continued to live as man and wife without a legal seal of approval. The practice remained entrenched despite attempts to dissuade or eradicate it.

The changes in common law marriage and gender expectations created an unstable power dynamic, namely common law husbands’ inability to maintain their authority as women asserted themselves. In 1888, Mary Antoine sought to prosecute her common law husband, William Anderson, for abuse. She stated that they had been living together in New Orleans for nine years as husband and wife and had two children. One night, he choked her while she was sleeping. Antoine had the resources to leave with her two children, and she fled the home soon after the incident.54 Since they had never legally solemnized the relationship, she could separate without seeking the court’s intervention, but as often happens with intimate partner violence, her leaving proved the most dangerous phase of the entire relationship.55 Married or not, Anderson spun out of control, not able to deal with his loss of power over Antoine. She testified that, on the evening of January 19, he found her at her friend’s house and

jumped into the room with a cotton hook in his hand. I ran and tried to get away from him. I got into the bed, he came after me, began to beat me with the cotton hook, he kept beating me until he hurt his hand with the cotton hook he then took the broomstick beat me with that then took me up bodily and threw [me] out of the door and as I started to get up, he kicked me.56

Anderson seemingly could not accept the end of his common law marriage and the subsequent repudiation of his “right” to control his common law wife, (p.75) and so he found her and beat her again. She successfully escaped and sent a child to contact her aunt, who called for the police. Anderson did not internalize the new masculinity but rather upheld an antiquated view of manhood. To him, legal sanction of his marriage did not matter. Antoine was “his” and as such subject to his authority and methods of “discipline.” Antoine, however, acted under the new views of womanhood in the postbellum period. She expected a certain level of protection and reciprocity. When he violated gender expectations by abusing her, she left. Although the exact catalyst that touched off the violence is unknown, the abuse clearly serves as an example of intimate partner violence based on a dynamic of competing gender expectations.

In a similar case, Elizabeth (Lizzie) Andrews pressed charges against her common law husband of five years, Major Anderson. He accused Andrews of having a relationship with another man, Daniel Jordan, and, despite her protests of innocence, Anderson choked her and pulled out a knife, insisting that he was going to kill her.57 Andrews testified that her common law husband’s actions were not isolated but that he had a history of violence and was extremely jealous. In her testimony before the New Orleans court, Lizzie Andrews stated: “The accused is a very jealous man and continually accuses me of being untrue and having criminal intercourse with other men. He has often ill treated me.”58 Through his actions, Anderson sought to control Andrews and ensure her fidelity through violence, but his actions violated gender expectations, leading Andrews to have her common law husband arrested.

The Major Anderson case illustrates how poor socioeconomic groups internalized the new views of gender and how the courts ruled on abuse in common law marriages. None of those involved in the suit—the black plaintiff, defendant, or witnesses—could read, write, or sign their names. All made their mark in the court records with an X. Although illiteracy cannot be the sole predictor of socioeconomic class, the inability to read and write indicates a lack of a rudimentary education and suggests that Andrews and Anderson did not belong to any middling or elite family.59 Her living situation is suggestive of economic hardship, as Andrews and Anderson rented a room from Jane Green on Plum Street.60 Instead of a bedroom, they lived in the kitchen and had been renting at that location for some time. Given her poor socioeconomic status, Andrews could have reinterpreted gender expectations differently, since those in power typically decide social expectations.61 In a way, she did. Marriage, to Andrews, did not have to be legally recognized with a formal ceremony and license; instead, she accepted a common law marriage as a suitable and valid form of marriage. She insisted that she and Anderson lived as husband and wife, which showed an emotional commitment deeper than (p.76) that of simple cohabitation. But, in another way, Andrews exhibited views similar to those of other women during the period. She internalized the new womanhood for women of color, and she refused to permit her common law husband the male privilege of chastisement any longer.

New gender expectations included a sense of reciprocity, particularly in working-class relationships. Working-class common law wives, for instance, expected assistance in the home, and some noted that their financial assistance to the family income entitled them to help with domestic chores. Others believed that the new gender expectations did not define women solely in terms of the home, but they still expected their husbands to contribute in some way. Jane Robinson, for example, certainly required respect and assistance with the housework despite middle-class ideals for white womanhood. In 1887, she filed assault and battery charges against her common law husband, Sam Carney. Carney wanted to go to sleep, but Robinson insisted that he take out the mattress and create a pallet for them to sleep on in their living room. After all, she argued, he had not gone to work, so he had not done anything to make him tired. If he did not help, she threatened that he would have to sleep in the bedroom with the children. Carney responded by yelling, “I will be God damn if I do,” and then he began to curse and beat her.62

As part of the New Orleans working class, Robinson and Carney both found seasonal work to make ends meet. They could not afford a home with sufficient bedrooms but rather slept in the living room and had their children share a common bed. Despite their financial situation, Robinson wanted Carney to fulfill his obligation as a man and as a partner by assisting with the domestic chores. When he violated this understanding by not helping and by hitting her with “two licks in the face,” she had him arrested.63 She asserted a right to be free from violence and challenged his power.

The new gendered expectations infiltrated all socioeconomic levels and even relationships outside of marriage. Many women began to recognize their economic and domestic contributions, and they believed that power needed to be renegotiated in these relationships. In courtship and common law marriages, women held more legal rights than before because they were no longer subsumed under their husband’s identity (“civilly dead”), as in the law of coverture.64 Essentially, they could separate and manage their separate property as a single woman would. This situation could be interpreted as the women’s ability to internalize a level of autonomy from their male partners, but during this period, even legally married women demanded the right to be free from violence.

(p.77) Legal Marriage

For married couples, the new gender dynamic was noticeable. Even men recognized a different interaction between husband and wife, as evidenced by John McKowen. McKowen, from Louisiana, wrote to his sister Sallie Henry about his widowed mother’s recent marriage and remarked:

I hope that Mama is happy in her new home and is learning to boss her husband as every good wife, who resolutely intends to be happy in her own home, should, and I hope that her husband takes kindly to the bossing as every happy husband must do if he really wants to be happy in his married life.65

He based the ideal marriage around the concept of happiness for both the husband and the wife, not the husband alone. Moreover, McKowen linked happiness in marriage not to the complete submission of the wife but rather to a degree of female assertiveness. The wife held the position of “boss” in the home under new gender and marital expectations, and the husband should “kindly” yield to his wife’s command of the household. If a wife became unhappy, she could seek a divorce; in fact, after the Civil War, unhappily married women increasingly sought divorce. Historian Carl Degler found that two-thirds of divorce petitions in the late 1860s were granted to women and argues that this shift in divorce signaled in part “another sign of women’s drive for greater autonomy within their marriage.”66 Among Orleans Parish court cases for intimate partner violence from 1880 to 1889, legal marriages accounted for 65 percent of the cases while extramarital intimate partner violence made up only 35 percent.67 Clearly, postbellum marriages did not resurrect an intact patriarchy and rather sought to renegotiate relationships between wives and husbands.

The role of the wife after the Civil War shifted to include visibility and participation in the public sphere. Using maternalistic rhetoric, women argued that their moral nature would be of benefit to the larger society and that the emerging gender expectations were not completely different from those of the antebellum period. Essentially, the glorification of white women as both domestic and moral forces remained. Both South and North engaged in memorial activities after the war including the creation of cemeteries, the relocation and burial of soldiers’ remains, the building of monuments, participation in decoration days, and the establishment of Memorial Day as a national holiday.68 In Memorial and Decoration Day speeches, men praised women not only for honoring the dead but also for their emotional and moral (p.78) nature. In 1873, Confederate colonel Thomas Hardeman applauded these women’s actions, saying:

These noble women come, when spring flowers bloom, to plant the memorial shrub and shed their tears of love over the humble mounds that tell where our heroes sleep. For this I give them honour and praise today.69

Hardeman lauded southern women in this speech for their sacrifice in the Civil War and for their continued love for the wounded and fallen soldiers. He noted that these women were “the perfection of beauty and glory of the land” because of their emotional fidelity to their men.70 This is key to the new gender expectations. Women could hold an exalted status through their devotion to men but not independently of them. These southern women’s reassurance in the wake of loss eased the grief of defeat and strengthened a weakened sense of manhood by emphasizing the sacrifice of southern men for the protection of southern women.

In spite of the conservative tone of women’s roles, these women acted as public advocates, a role they had not often assumed in the past. They stepped out of the home and honored fallen men, even Confederate soldiers. Instead of being viewed as treasonous, women honoring the Confederate fallen were viewed as nonthreatening and helped pave the way for such tributes to be acceptable. Nurturing and moral behavior remained aspects of the new womanhood, but the older separate spheres ideal gave way to a more public female whose viewpoints and actions could have a larger impact. Although still defined maternally, women were now in an altered relationship with men even as they held onto older characteristics of womanhood.

Wives, especially those in the upper socioeconomic class, were encouraged to join benevolent societies and become leaders of their community. One Louisiana woman advised a female relative to do as much, since “this is an absolute cure for blues, is a strong anchor and fine encouragement for your husband, and in short makes you a good and valuable citizen rather than a hippo-condriac [sic] and drone and impediment to society.”71 Heading charities and other helpful organizations, then, made women useful assets to their husbands and to the larger society. Confining oneself to the home completely was not desirable or practical, and in their newer, more public role, women exerted more influence than before.

Women also became more visible in the public arena, especially in urban areas, by participating in what historian Kathy Peiss calls “cheap amusements.”66 For instance, women gathered in public squares to talk or listen to music, as Lizzie Muldaner did in New Orleans.73 They sometimes went with (p.79) their male partners, but women also participated in leisure activities with female acquaintances or sisters. Although most white women remained outside the workforce, more and more women had to earn an income, particularly women of color, in the wake of the economic recessions of the 1870s, 1880s, and 1890s.74 The census of 1900 estimated that more than 20 percent of women worked and declared that “although far from customary,” working women were “by no means unusual.”75 In Louisiana, the percentage was a little higher, reaching almost 28 percent.76 Anna Marks from New Orleans testified in 1887 that her husband was unable to support them and that she had to work part time to earn money to buy shoes for their baby.77 Necessity compelled her to find extra income for the household. Although Marks and Muldaner ventured outside the home for different reasons, their presence in the public sphere illustrates the increasing visibility of women in what previously had been considered male activities.

Many wives agreed that their husbands had no right to abuse them, but their repudiation of the male privilege of chastisement took various forms. Some New Orleans women showed a sense of agency by verbally standing up to their abusive husbands. A Mrs. Bax pressed charges against her husband, and in her testimony she stated that their argument had been over her treating him “coolly.”78 When her husband cross-examined her and asked if she would improve her attitude, she refused because, she reasoned, “he wasn’t treating me properly and I wasn’t going to do any better.”79 Like former nun Désirée Martin, Mrs. Bax seemed to expect a sort of reciprocity in male-female relationships.74 When her husband did not seek to make her happy, she declared that she did not have to behave submissively. Instead, she argued with him and defended her cold treatment. Mrs. Bax implied that only when he acted as a loving and protective husband would she in turn conform to the role of a loving and submissive wife. Even if some husbands like Mr. Bax wanted obedience, society could not resurrect the expectation of complete female subordination in the postbellum period. The conditions of the Civil War made women recognize the negative consequences of upholding the antebellum feminine ideal, and new views of womanhood required a different type of marriage based more on respect and a give-and-take mentality.

Other women physically confronted their abusive spouses, believing that men’s violation of new gender expectations warranted a like response. Virginia Wilson testified that her husband “rushed in and gave me a shove, and I shoved him back.”81 Wilson expressed the belief that he was subject to the same treatment that he showed her. Another woman, Mary Shields, stated that after her husband struck her, she hit him with a spoon she had in her hand.82 When he then made a movement toward her, she “struck him in the (p.80) mouth.”83 Shields’s actions appear as self-defense, but she fought back rather than remain passive.84 In a case involving an African American couple, the wife, Anne Dagan (alias Anne Williams), similarly fought back. When the court asked her why she beat her husband, Anne said, “I tell you sir, he got just what he deserved. I ain’t no dog, and I ain’t going to be thrashed in that way.”85 She explicitly stated that her husband had no right to strike her, believing that she possessed the right to be free from marital violence, and she took a stand to stop it. Despite what some historians claim, these New Orleans women did not seek to act like ladies to gain sympathy and successful prosecution from the court.86 Physically violent behavior could be seen as unfeminine in most other situations, but in intimate partner violence, women could and did strike back without being judged negatively. After all, the husbands had first violated redefined gender expectations by being abusive toward their wives. Shields, Wilson, and Williams—like other women—openly refuted any male privilege of chastisement and did not hide their behavior from the court.

Of the 225 Orleans Parish cases of intimate partner violence in the 1880s, only three women expressed belief in the privacy of the family or the husband’s right to chastisement. This accounts for approximately 1.5 percent of the cases of intimate partner violence—an astoundingly small minority.87 In 1882, police dragged James Gillen to court for abusing his wife; Mrs. Gillen never sought to press charges. When asked to testify on the incident, Mrs. Gillen stated: “I didn’t wish to prosecute him. … He wanted his way, and I wanted mine. It was my fault as much as his.”88 When the judge asked where she received her black eye, Mrs. Gillen responded, “It was done in the family. I didn’t wish to go against my husband.”89 Despite a policeman having witnessed the abuse, Mrs. Gillen insisted that she was accountable and avoided a detailed description of the events, providing vague responses and upholding the concept of family privacy. She insisted that she did not want charges pressed since it was a family affair, even if she felt that she had a right to hold different views from her husband on certain issues. Although women such as Mrs. Gillen internalized some sense of guilt or privacy, clearly most women no longer accepted a complete patriarchy, including total female submissiveness. Gender ideals had changed too much for these women.

Overwhelmingly, women internalized the change in gender expectations. Out of 225 cases examined from Orleans Parish during the 1880–1889 period, 98.5 percent asserted that their male partners did not have the right to raise a hand against them. Their testimony illustrates a large shift on an individual level (p.81) about how women viewed intimate partner violence, and the fact that women constituted the majority of the plaintiffs, unlike in the antebellum period, further supports a different attitude about what had previously been a male privilege. By refusing to submit to physical and emotional violence, women renegotiated every type of romantic relationship with their male partners and influenced social attitudes. Their repudiation of abuse affected other members of society, the community, and the public at large. Fluid gender expectations, then, allowed for social reform on the issue of intimate partner violence. (p.82)


(1.) State v. Sylvester Conlon, CRDC 5573 (1884).

(3.) Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives, 256. Gordon’s section on intimate partner violence focuses on the North and mainly examines child protection agencies rather than the courts. This would account for the difference in women’s mentality. New definitions of womanhood in the South, as I have argued, required protection and gave a sense of agency. Moreover, women changed their tactics to appeal to the courts and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (SPCC). The SPCC’s main goal was to help abused children. Women had to demonstrate that their husbands’ abuse toward them also impacted their children. The SPCC could only offer limited help to the abused wife, and this did not include (p.168) seeking punishment of the batterer. Consequently, women’s approach to the SPCC in the North and courts in the South would not be the same.

(4.) State v. George Williams, CRDC #1304 (1881).

(5.) Elizabeth Janeway, Powers of the Weak (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980), 9.

(6.) Some more recent studies suggest that while power resides as the central issue in intimate partner violence, abusers who feel disempowered in other areas will be more likely to compensate by engaging in physically or emotionally abusive behaviors. Such factors might have influenced the behavior of men of color or poorer socioeconomic classes in the late nineteenth century (especially considering their lack of legal and social equality as compared to wealthy white men), but ultimately the violence rested on power over their female partner. See Julia C. Babcock, Jennifer Waltz, Neil S. Jacobson, and John M. Gottman, “Power and Violence: The Relation between Communication Patterns, Power Discrepancies, and Domestic Violence,” Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology 61, no. 1 (1993): 40–50.

(7.) State v. John Heir, CRDC #7410 (1885).

(8.) State v. Gust Hannewinckle, CRDC #10128 (1887).

(10.) State v. Jeffery Hill, CRDC #7593 (1885).

(12.) Karen Lystra, Searching the Heart: Women, Men, and Romantic Love in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989). For a similar discussion of sentiment in courtship, see Ellen Rothman, Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America (New York: Basic Books, 1989).

(14.) This tradition was also mentioned in “Picayunes for the Ladies,” Times-Picayune, May 16, 1880, 10.

(15.) Thelia Bush to Ms. Wilkinson, January 29, 1880, Collinsburg, Louisiana, Micajah Wilkinson Papers, Manuscript Collection 707, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

(16.) This general argument is expressed in a few historians’ works. One frequently used example is Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s 1559 painting The Fight between Carnival and Lent. Historians claim that, in general, the feast before Lent was an enactment of a “world turned upside down” with the inversion of class-based power, but the day provided an outlet for poorer socioeconomic classes to release their frustrations, thereby maintaining the elite’s power and control. See Brian P. Levack, Edward Muir, and Meredith Veldman, The West: Encounters and Transformations to 1715 (Harlow, Essex, England: Longman, 2007).

(17.) Ruth McEnery Stuart, “Jessekiah Brown’s Courtship,” in A Golden Wedding and Other Tales (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1893). Although Stuart does not directly mention that the story is situated in Louisiana, it does mention a plantation along a levee and Bayou Teche. Since Bayou Teche is in Louisiana, the story seems to be located there.

(18.) After the Civil War, the average age at which men married increased to 27.8 and for women, 23.8; however, J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones argue that the Civil War was not solely responsible for the increase in the marrying age. Rather, it was part (p.169) of a larger overall trend, similar to what was happening in other industrial countries. See J. David Hacker, Libra Hilde, and James Holland Jones, “The Effect of the Civil War on Marriage Patterns,” Journal of Southern History 76, no. 1 (February 2010): 39–70.

(21.) Robert H. Wiebe, The Search for Order: 1877–1920 (New York: Hill and Wang, 1967), xii.

(22.) Kathy L. Peiss, Cheap Amusements: Working Women and Leisure in Turn-of-the-Century New York (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1986). I avoid the use of the word “dating” for this period, since the modern view of dating did not emerge until the 1920s with the proliferation of cars. See Beth L. Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat: Courtship in Twentieth-Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988).

(23.) State v. James Davis, CRDC #3050 (1882).

(24.) Charles H. Bennett, The Frog Who Would a Wooing Go (New York: McLoughlin Brothers, 1875).

(26.) For more information on “treating,” see Peiss, Cheap Amusements; and Elizabeth Clement, Love for Sale: Courting, Treating, and Prostitution in New York City, 1900–1945 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).

(27.) Clement, Love for Sale, 3.

(28.) State v. Willie Hennessey, CRDC #9950 (1887).

(30.) State v. John Green, CRDC #5627 (1884).

(31.) State v. George Samuels and John Schnieder, CRDC #8592 (1886).

(36.) State v. Andrew Williams, CRDC #1805 (1881).

(38.) State v. Morris Hamilton, CRDC #10182 (1887).

(40.) Nancy F. Cott, Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 39.

(41.) For more information on the social purity movement, see David J. Pivar, Purity Crusade: Sexual Morality and Social Control, 1868–1900 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973). For more information on the progressive movement, see Michael E. McGerr, A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870–1920 (New York: Free Press, 2003).

(42.) As cited in Michael Grossberg, Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1985), 85.

(44.) Ibid., 83-100.

(p.170) (45.) Ibid.

(46.) Bercaw, Gendered Freedoms, 106–7. Although taking up and sweethearting were viewed as distinct from marriage, some couples, as Bercaw states, did view those alternative living arrangements as a precursor to marriage.

(47.) Although states attempted to curb “bad” marriages and rising divorce rates by enacting new legislation, the number of divorces continued to increase. Between 1889 and 1906, the divorce rate grew to fifteen times what it had been prior to the Civil War. See Steven Mintz and Susan Kellogg, Domestic Revolutions: A Social History of American Family Life (New York: Free Press, 1988), 109.

(48.) The State of Louisiana, Louisiana Legal Archives, vol. 3, part 1, Compiled Edition of the Civil Codes of Louisiana (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Law Institute, 1940), 51. In 1825 and 1870, a few changes in the punctuation of the description were made, but the content remained the same.

(51.) Edmund Augustus Peyroux, Revised Civil Code of the State of Louisiana to Which Were Added Useful Abundant References to the Decision of the Supreme Court, Annual Reports and also References to the Acts of Legislature Up To and Including the Session of 1882 (New Orleans: Geo Muller Printer, 1885), 133.

(52.) Goran Lind, Common Law Marriage: A Legal Institution for Cohabitation (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 147.

(53.) Because common law marriages came under attack during the postbellum era and because some states, such as Louisiana, refused to recognize them, intimate partner violence in common law marriages falls in the nonmarital intimate partner violence category. The court case cited for Louisiana’s legal recognition of other states’ common law marriages was Taylor v. Swett, 3 La. 33 (1831). Also, I use the term “common law marriage” rather than “concubinage” to refer to the committed relationship of two individuals living together regardless of race. Although concubinage refers to a state in which a couple lives together “in a committed relationship without benefit of marriage,” common law marriage appears better a term for this discussion. Often, the couple in the court records would refer to each other as husband and wife with the added phrase “although not legally married.” To them, they felt married and did not use any other phrase to refer to their arrangement. Sometimes, the couple would eventually seek legal sanction of their marriage. Additionally, other states did and still do recognize common law marriage. Consequently, I have chosen to stay with the phrase “common law marriage” rather than “concubinage” or even “cohabitation.” For more information on concubinage in New Orleans, particularly the form called plaçage, which involved an interracial relationship, see Long, The Great Southern Babylon.

(54.) State v. William Anderson, CRDC #10255 (1888).

(55.) There are no statistics on intimate partner homicides during the postbellum period. Presently, 75 percent of intimate partner homicides are committed as the victim attempts to leave the relationship. See Hallie Bongar White and James G. White, “Testifying about Lethality Risk Factors,” Southwest Center for Law and Policy, and Office on Violence against Women, US Department of Justice, 2005.

(p.171) (56.) State v. William Anderson, CRDC #10255 (1888). Cotton hooks were found in many court cases involving assault and battery. Since they were common items in areas dependent on cotton as a cash crop, these instruments were accessible and could inflict significant injury, given their sharp end and heavy metal construction.

(57.) State v. Major Anderson, CRDC #8059 (1886).

(59.) Statistics on education in the postbellum era show that roughly half of five- to nineteen-year-olds were enrolled in school. “Rates for males and females were roughly similar throughout the period, but rates for blacks were much lower than for whites. … Following the Civil War, enrollment rates for blacks rose rapidly from 10 percent in 1870 to 34 percent in 1880.” See Tom Snyder, ed., 120 Years of American Education: A Statistical Portrait (Washington, DC: US Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement, National Center for Education Statistics, 1993), chapter 1.

(60.) State v. Major Anderson, CRDC #8059 (1886).

(61.) Most postmodernist theorists argue that those in power help to formulate or uphold what constitutes “normal” and “not normal.” Those considered abnormal are denied access to power. Also, scholarship on disempowered groups has shown how minorities reinterpret and reappropriate these values. See Larry May and Jeff Brown, eds., Philosophy of Law: Classic and Contemporary Readings (Oxford: Blackwell, 2010), 133. See also Dianna Taylor and Karen Vintges, eds., Feminism and the Final Foucault (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2004), 222–23; Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison (New York: Pantheon Books, 1977); and Keith Jenkins, The Postmodern History Reader (London: Routledge, 1997).

(62.) State v. Sam Carney, CRDC #9873 (1887).

(64.) Coverture defined women whose identities were subsumed under their husbands’ as “civilly dead.” This had been the legal means of identifying women since the colonial era. For more information on coverture in the United States, see Hendrik Hartog, Man and Wife in America: A History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Kerber, No Constitutional Right to Be Ladies; and Sally Kitch, The Specter of Sex: Gendered Foundations of Racial Formation in the United States (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2009).

(65.) John McKowen to Sallie Henry, December 20, 1895, Wilson, Louisiana, McKowen-Lilley-Stirling Family Papers, Manuscript Collection 4356, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

(66.) Carl N. Degler, At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present (New York: Oxford University Press, 1980), 168. Elaine Tyler May also notices a shift in divorce in the second half of the nineteenth century in her case study of Los Angeles. May says that “the late nineteenth century witnessed a slight straining against the limits of Victorianism” as “altered sex roles” reshaped marital expectations and the courts’ response. See Elaine Tyler May, Great Expectations: Marriage and Divorce in Post-Victorian America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980), 49.

(67.) Of these cases, 146 (65 percent) involved marital intimate partner violence.

(p.172) (68.) For more on decoration days, see David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2001); and Foster, Ghosts of the Confederacy.

(69.) John R. Ficklen Papers, Manuscript Collection 144, 209, Louisiana and Lower Mississippi Valley Collections, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

(71.) O. M. Grisham to Sallie, June 19, 1904, Winnfield, Louisiana, Grisham-Kellogg-Faust Papers, Manuscript Collection 5048, Hill Memorial Library, Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.

(73.) State v. Mat Lumbardo, CRDC #9901 (1887).

(74.) For more information on the history of women and the workforce, see Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work: A History of Wage-Earning Women in the United States (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982).

(75.) US Census Bureau, Statistics of Women at Work, US Census of 1900, 9, at https://www2.census.gov/prod2/decennial/documents/00779830ch1.pdf, accessed September 10, 2016.

(77.) State v. Henry Marks, CRDC #10180 (1887).

(78.) State v. A. Bax, CRDC #5062 (1884).

(81.) State v. James Wilson, CRDC #9856 (1887).

(82.) State v. G.C. Shields, CRDC #9767 (1887).

(84.) Linda Gordon in Heroes of Their Own Lives also shows female agency with abused women sometimes fighting back.

(85.) “An Unhappy Pair,” Daily Picayune, May 7, 1879.

(86.) Some claim that women had to play innocent victims before the court. See Beverly J. Schwartzberg, “Grass Widows, Barbarians, and Bigamists: Fluid Marriage in Late Nineteenth-Century America” (PhD diss., University of California, Santa Barbara, 2001), 73–74.

(87.) In only three cases (1.3 percent) did women express the belief that their husband had some sort of right to beat them. Of thirty-eight nolle prosequi cases, in only three cases (8 percent) did women believed that they were at fault and dropped charges. I think that both statistics are helpful. The first shows how few women viewed intimate partner violence as beyond the reach of the courts. The second shows even among those cases that were dropped, the majority of women did not believe that their husband had the right of chastisement. Nolle prosequi cases, therefore, do not undermine the argument of women’s overall agency due to new conceptions of womanhood.

(88.) State v. James Gillen, CRDC #2911 (1882). Mrs. Gillen’s first name never appears in the testimony.