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What is Cruel Treatment? (1878)

CRUEL WORDS AS MUCH A GROUND
FOR DIVORCE AS PHYSICAL INJURIES.

Judge Sedgwick, of New York, has filed in a divorce suit an opinion that is novel as well as important to wives. Cruel and inhuman treatment forms one statutory cause for limited divorce, with alimony and care of children; but hitherto the current of opinion has been that this phrase signifies treatment of an exclusively physical nature.

The judge in referring to the allegations and evidence against the ill-treatment of the wife by the husband in Kennedy vs. Kennedy, said: “This constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment as meant by the statute, even if no bodily injury was done to her. There was sleeplessness and the consequences of nervous shock and derangement, which things are as definitely ‘bodily’ as the results of a blow, and last longer unless the blow is murderous. The plaintiff should have judgment for a separation.”

In this case the husband had employed his tongue as the sole weapon instead of his hand, a knife or stick.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

The rapid advance in public sentiment is truly wonderful. What a change from the time a man might beat his wife with a club or whip her with a stick as big as his thumb, down to this decision which forbids abusive language toward her. Great pains were taken in olden time to save a man from his wife’s tongue, in case she felt like using that little instrument in retaliation. There were stocks and the ducking stool for scolding wives, little implements of wife subjugation brought along by our puritan fathers to keep in due subordination the puritan mothers.

All honor to Judge Sedgwick for his decision against a husband’s cruel words, from which many a woman suffers whose husband prides himself upon the kindness with which he treats her; killing kindness, for no more “cruel and inhuman treatment” is possible than the tongue can give. Words kill.

Source: National Citizen and Ballot Box, September 1878

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