Learning from the Past, Looking to the Future: Session 2 – Service Provision for Domestic Abuse Survivors

What Aid? Certainly Not “Women’s Aid”: Social Work and Abused Wives in Scotland, c1850-1950

Annmarie Hughes, University of Glasgow

Annmarie Hughes


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–          Victorian era: politicians would say low levels of divorce, domestic abuse and family breakdown

  • Far from reality
  • Rural areas had no. of single parent families comparable or higher than today
    • Victims of domestic abuse
  • Single parents struggled to survive
    • Social services only got involved if a woman was not supported (aliment)
    • Even with a legal separation still a dependent of the husband

–          Agenda

  • Created more harm
  • Created more family breakdown

–          Content

  • 1992-1996 Experiences at marriage between the wars in Scotland
    • No help, no shelters, no aid, little support available from family members
  • 3-3,500 men prosecuted for an assault by a husband on a wife
  • 1900, 5,000 husbands prosecuted
    • Still masks the real figures
  • Scottish press portrayed women as the provokers
    • Bad wives, bad reputations
  • Women also relevant for fear of retaliation
    • Insulted in court
    • Stalked by husband; most men unlikely to receive a custodial sentence
    • Arrested with breach of the peace not assault
  • Could not pay by installment of fine so men had to go to jail unable to pay
  • Installment of fine instituted after WWII
    • Fines were burdens on wives
      • Puts women off
  • Probation sentence introduced in early 20th c.
  • Women could always get a legal separation on the ground of cruelty
    • But majority separated informally or lived with another man due to strict cruelty clauses
      • Sustained, life threatening, cumulative
      • Recognised mental abuse and economic harm and third party harm and sexual abuse (but not rape (1980)
  • Criminal Evidence Act allowed wives to be witnesses in a Civil Court
  • Clive argues cost of divorce not as expensive in Scotland but a woman would need at least £10 to initiate a legal separation (usually £50-100)
    • Even more when contested
  • Some parishes just refused to help women
    • Did not want to break up the family

–          20th Century

  • 1907 Sheriff Court Act
    • Allowed women to go to any court to get a separation à led to an increase in number of women seeking separation orders (majority cruelty cases)
  • Call for establishment of family courts
    • Family quarrels
    • Not to undermine institution of marriage
  • Societies to assist families
    • Parish councils and SPCC (1880’s)
      • Assistance for deserted women (including husbands who drank)
    • SPCC—did not want to break up the home but prevent families from harming the community
      • Wanted to reunite families
        • Pledge signing
    • Churches also involved in family problems
      • Also forced families to reconcile as the only way they would assist
      • Dealt mostly with economic abuse
        • 19th century equivalent of child support agency (20th c)
        • Many women were experiencing poverty which effected the children and then agencies got involved, but still hoped for reconciliation
        • Deserted, abused women were seen as burdens on the society and their children were thought to become prostitutes and vagabonds
    • These organizations would not support divorce and thought working-class women should expect violence in their marriage
  • No divorce led to an increase in one-parent families
    • Lack of financial support led to more family breakdown