London: George Edward Eyre and William Spottiswoode, 14 June 1853. First edition. [16 Victoria, Chapter 30] Folio in self wraps, complete in 4 pages (313-316). Tall, wide-margined and in excellent unmarked condition. The only example on the market, OCLC locates one institutional copy.
As English women continued combatting the legal implications of Coverture, gaining control over and protection for their own bodies was paramount to achieving equality. Long considered property with no legal protection from beating, assault, or rape, married women's well-being was overwhelmingly reliant on their husband's views of discipline and obedience. "The framing of violence against women as a problem arose primarily as a result of campaigning by feminists and the voluntary sector" (Johnson); these activists played a vital role in re-casting abuse as a systemic violation of human dignity that damaged family and society rather than simply a matter of one individual man's private whims. "Arguing that cruelty to animals was more severely penalised than cruelty to wives," the activists were able to sway public opinion in their favor (Foyster). But unable to vote or lobby in Parliament, they needed male allies who could formulate policies. This came to a head in 1853, when MP Fitzroy of Lewes picked up the women's vocabulary and pressed for legislation to address "the startling principle of English law that women are of less value than Poodle dogs and Skye terriers" (Foyster).
An imperfect piece of legislation, the Act for the Better Prevention and Punishment of Aggravated Assaults was nevertheless progress. Including sexual assault of women and children under its definition of domestic abuse, the Act imposed a fine of £20 (approximately £2,600 today) and six months of imprisonment. Yet the Act did not ban a man's violence against his family; it only instituted a legal limit on the amount of force that could be inflicted before it was labeled as brutality. (Item #4536)