Abstract

Although historians have identified violence against wives as a particular concern for late-nineteenth-century feminists, this article argues that class politics limited feminists' engagement with the problem of wife beating. English feminists used tales of working-class brutes who beat and maimed their wives to demand the vote for educated and propertied women; however, the class dynamics of such tales made them impolitic for Australian feminists fighting for the vote in a country with a proud tradition of universal manhood suffrage. Stories that revolved around passive victims and irredeemable brutes remained largely unconnected with feminist critiques of marriage. Leaders of the English women's movement used wife beating mainly to construct women's suffrage as a selfless duty middle-class women owed to their suffering sisters. In Australia, feminists infused these tales with their faith in progress and the possibilities of a new land and came to understand wife beating as predominantly a problem of the past and the Old World.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-2036
Print ISSN
1042-7961
Pages
pp. 107-131
Launched on MUSE
2007-12-20
Open Access
No
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