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How Did Victims of Domestic Abuse Get Justice in Baltimore During the Mid-1900s?

Baltimore, Maryland, and Delaware are known for using flogging or whipping as a punishment during the 1880s to the mid-1900s. The latest flogging between the three states occurred in Delaware in 1952, which had the most whipping cases as more than 24 offenses were punishable by flogging. 

A 56-year old law in Baltimore during the 1930s punished a wife-beater by strapping them on a post before flogging them numerous times continuously. Since they often escape conviction, this is the only way victims are able to get justice.

Early Domestic Battery and Its Wide Acceptance

During Romulus’ rule in Rome in 753 BC, beating one’s wife would be considered normal. Fully supported by the Laws of Chastisement, husbands had the just authority to correct or discipline his wife in a physical manner. As the accountability of the wives’ crimes fell under the husband’s fault in legal terms, this law sheltered the spouses from damage induced by their ill-mannered spouse.

From 1200 AD to the 14th century, the battery of one’s wife was standard practice. In some regions of the world, the Roman Catholic Church promoted the idea that it was correct to physically assault your wife as long as it would be for their benefit. (Source: Saint Martha’s Hall

“When you see your wife commit an offense, don’t rush at her with insults and violent blows… Scold her sharply, bully and terrify her. And if this doesn’t work… take up a stick and beat her soundly… Then readily beat her, not in rage but out of charity and concern for her soul, so that the beating will redound to your merit and her good.”

Rules for Marriage

(Source: The Journal of Trauma

In the 1600s, battered women hid from their abusers in covenants, making covenants the first shelter for abused women. More than a hundred years later, in 1767, a man’s permission to beat their wives came from the rule of thumb both in Great Britain and the United States. The rule of thumb stated that a rod thinner than the man’s thumb is a legal weapon of choice to inflict pain on your wife. (

With that said, domestic violence, ever since the reign of Romulus, was a widely accepted practice throughout the world. Without the numerous influential feminist and civil rights movements during the early 20th century, violence against women would still be customary. (Source: Saint Martha’s Hall

Baltimore’s Antiquated Wife Battery Punishment

For more than 50 years, Baltimore punished wife beaters by flogging. The punishment of Clyde Miller, the last known person to be flogged for wife battery, started by strapping him to a wooden post shaped similar to a cross in Baltimore City Jail.

Fifty persons watched as the beating began with Clyde Miller whipped 20 continuous times by Sheriff Joe Deegan with a cat o’ nine tails, a several-tailed flail. The 20 blows left Miller crying and whimpering, nearly blacking out from the pain. And although Sheriff Deegan didn’t revel in the task enforced to him, he expressed that he had no choice as he was only an instrument of the law.


Baltimore, Maryland, and Delaware used flogging to punish wife-beaters, but unlike Baltimore, Maryland enacted this law during the early 1880s, while the last Delaware flogging occurred in 1952. As stated by the Maryland Legislature, the repeated apprehension of men and the struggle of acquiring a conviction from their dependents sparked the need for a whipping punishment. (Source: Maryland Center for History and Culture)

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