by Cass Clemmer
October was first celebrated as Domestic Violence Awareness month in 1981, which means we have had 33 years of activists pressuring our nation to take action. 33 years of limited progress, hundreds of thousands of victims, and far too few jailed perpetrators.
But what about before 1981?
In my search to answer this question and more, I exhausted the bottomless pit of Google pages and caused my professors to scratch their heads in an attempt to recollect a smidgen of data they’d run across in their research. I interviewed friends who worked at domestic violence shelters, sifted through several outdated homepages for women’s associations to find any coherence of historical fact I could find that I could relay to my readers.
After days spent collecting scraps of information, I finally compiled enough to draft a brief timeline of domestic violence in the United States. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised at the difficulty I faced in my research, but still, I’m disheartened. Domestic violence isn’t a pretty issue that can be tied up in a triumphant historical bow; it exists in the shadows of the past, far from the spotlight we shine on the neater issues that don’t poke at our swallowed guilt. Perhaps in order for history to be celebrated, the negative parts must be condemned in a moral superiority of the modern era. Phrases like, “We know better now,” or, “I can’t believe they used to condone that!” or even, “Well that was back then!” allow us to look at injustices as relics of the past, not values of the present.
Maybe that’s why the history of Domestic Violence is so hidden… because it’s an issue that has crawled its way through time, encouraged by our consistent cultural view of women as objects of possession. It’s hard to tell the history of a struggle when the struggle is far from over. Gloria Steinem noted that, in her time, there was no such thing as domestic violence… it was simply called life. The history books would agree, with no mention of domestic violence before the mid-1900s. It’s difficult to trace a history of violence without a trail and in order for us to learn from our past, we must first discover it, but perhaps more importantly, we must discover why it remains as hidden today as it does between pages of the dusty history books left unopened on the shelves of our nation.
Keep a lookout in the next few days for my historical timeline of domestic violence in the US!