How have societal attitudes to family violence changed since the first U.S. court case concerning child abuse in 1874?
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Societal attitudes towards domestic abuse have changed tremendously since 1874. However, it is fair to say that they did not change very much for many decades after 1874. It was really only in the last few decades (since around the 1960s) that attitudes have truly changed.
For a very long time in American society, families were very hierarchical and what happened within the family was seen as none of the business of society at large. Within the family, there was a clear hierarchy. The father and husband was clearly at the top with the wife/mother below him. The children were the lowest in the hierarchy. Husbands could do as they wished to their wives and both parents could do whatever they wanted to their children. If a man struck his wife, it was his prerogative because he was set over her. The same applied to parents using corporal punishment on their children. Society had no say over what went on in the family. This attitude persisted well into the 20th century.
Beginning about 50 years ago, attitudes began to change. This came about in large part because of the rising movement for women’s rights. Society started to reject most of the old attitudes about male dominance and about how to treat children. Today, it is no longer acceptable to be abusive towards one’s wife and physical punishment of children is much less prevalent than it once was. We are now a much more egalitarian society than we once were and we have many more qualms about the efficacy of corporal punishment of children.
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