Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Between 1865 and 1920, new gender expectations in the postbellum period, as well as the willingness to use the state to intervene in marriages led to social and legal reform that provided a mechanism to empower women and enforce their right to be free from violence. Women emerged from the Civil War more aware about the drawbacks of dependency. The postbellum period also witnessed massive changes with industrialization, which enabled women to participate in what were previously considered male pursuits. With their new awareness and the changes of industrialization, women negotiated a new definition of womanhood, which included the right to be free from intimate-partner violence. Reform organizations also reflected this change and pushed for recognition of this right. Courts, in turn, started to decide cases in favor of abused women, depriving men of the antiquated right of chastisement. After the 1890s, however, the issue of race in the South perverted intimate-partner violence into a method of disenfranchising African Americans. In the North, the rise of scientific experts by the 1920s helped conservative gender expectations to change public policies for abused women. These changes washed away progress towards addressing the problem of intimate-partner violence. This dissertation applies the lens of gender to intimate-partner violence from 1865 to 1920 and offers insight to the history of gender and the law. It shows not only that gender is a process, created and recreated by the public depending on the historical context, but also that the social construction of gender has real consequences for men and women. Moreover, this dissertation complicates the view that history is necessarily progressive. Rather than a straight line, the path towards ending intimate-partner violence appears more like a wave with advancements and major setbacks. Change was not steady, and the social problem of abuse did not become incrementally better over time. This perhaps does not offer solace to the modern-day movement against intimate-partner violence, promising things will get better over time, but it does encourage more critical analysis of the multifaceted problem of intimate-partner violence and the way evolving beliefs about gender have shaped American society’s reactions and responses to gender based violence.



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Committee Chair

Shindo, Charles



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