Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Mrs. Smiley the Scold

 Ben Franklin said, "They who no voice nor vote in the electing of representatives do not enjoy liberty, but are absolutely enslaved to those who have votes."

The irony of Mrs. Smiley being charged as a scold hasn't escaped me. What did surprise me was that woman could still be arrested as late as 1913 for being a scold.  

In the United Kingdom during the 16th and 17th centuries, a woman could pay a heavy price for being a scold--not only forced to wear a "scold's bridle" but be repeatedly dunked in a lake or a pond.

An interesting insight on "scolding" was taken up in the state of New Jersey in 1972:

By definition only a woman can be a "Common Scold." A man might be "troublesome and angry" and by his "brawling and wrangling among" his "neighbors break the peace, increase discord and become a nuisance to the neighborhood" yet he could not be a common scold. Commonwealth v. Hamilton, 52 Pa. Dist. & Co. Rep. 485 (Quarter Sessions 1945). The discrimination between the sexes is obvious. It is senseless. It is unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th amendment. United States v. York.

It's important to note that "scolding" could be defined as a woman who voiced disagreement with her husband.  I suppose Mrs. Smiley was lucky that her husband didn't have her committed to an insane asylum--an action that in many states could occur without the usual process of going to court to commit someone involuntarily.  In these states, wives could be committed by their husband's without the usual legal process.  

If Mrs. Smiley went to trial, I wonder how the jury would have judged her.  Women weren't allowed to sit on juries before the 19th Amendment unless a special exception was made for what was called "A Jury of Matrons."  The matron juries were usually reserved only for pregnant women on trial.

You may think this was eradicated once the 19th Amendment was passed.  But it wasn't.  

Image from 12 Angry Men movie, 1957

Believe it or not,  women were not given the right to sit on a Federal Jury until 1957.  It wasn't until 1968 that all fifty states allowed women to sit on a jury.  Campaigns to provide women with this right were frequently organized by groups such as the League of Women Voters; the League was founded by suffragist Carrie Chapman Catt, president of the National American Woman Suffrage Association.

Charles Dana Gibson's 1903 illustration:  
"The Jury of the Future--One that Might Temper Justice with Mercy"

Mrs. Smiley spent a few days in jail and was given "a wholesome lecture" by the residing judge and released.  Mrs. Smiley "promised to reform" and was sent on her way.  

How do you feel about Mrs. Smiley's story?

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