Of Victorian Women and Whips

“I put out my hands, which she fastened together with a cord by the wrists.  Then making me lie down across the foot of the bed, face downwards, she very quietly and deliberately, putting her left hand around my waist, gave me a shower of smart slaps with her open right hand…Raising the birch, I could hear it whiz in the air, and oh, how terrible it felt as it came down,  and as its repeated strokes came swish, swish, swish on me!”- from Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine, 1870

During the 19th century, women’s periodicals were filled with personal accounts such as the above.  Correspondents detailed use of ropes, handcuffs, which pieces of furniture they tied the girls to, and even the number of strokes they unleashed.  They elaborated on whether they chose to flagellate their daughters while in their drawers or bare-bottomed.  One lady, who signed off as, “A Happy Mother” detailed how she first slathered  her children in cream before whipping them.   

 A debate started in 1868 regarding whether mothers should use corporal punishment on daughters past puberty.     The magazines were flooded by letters to the editors.  Some complained that parents should not take  pride in humiliating their children in such a manner.   Others complained that the accounts were much too titilating  for modest publications.  

 Indeed, as  flagellation was a very popular subject in Victorian erotica, many of  the letters first published in the domestic magazines concerning corporal punishment were later copied verbatum in the adult magazines .   While evidence supports the fact that more men purchased the latter, there are also various accounts of everyday middle-class women not only frequenting the infamous Holywell Street where such stores displayed erotica in their windows, but also wrote and published erotic works of their own. 

However, for most women, such naughtiness could be more safely enjoyed within the pages of the leading domestic magazines.  For, if anyone entered the room while they were reading of servants ordered to pull down a daughter’s underclothes, they could quickly flip the page to an article on fashion, the economy,  politics, or the  latest developments in the suffrage movement.

*source:  Between Women by Sharon Marcus

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20 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. This is both disturbing and encouraging. More proof that there is nothing new under the sun, or in the dark for that matter.

  2. Tasha, the Victorian era sounds so much more interesting when you post about it. 🙂

  3. Wow! I didn’t know this about Victorian woman’s periodicals. The psychology is fascinating.

  4. Hey Edward,

    Indeed. There certainly isn’t anything new under the sun. And this is just another example of how the stereotype of the uptight, prim and proper Victorian is so wrong. The sexual connotation in those letters is so blatant that it’s hilarious.

  5. Thank you, Amy! 🙂

    It helps that so many great, in-depth studies have been published lately. Previously, historians just took things at face value which is why the erroneous image of the sexless, cold, humorless Victorian has remained for so long.

  6. Hi Kristine,

    The book, “Between Women” by Sharon Marcus, which I noted as a source, goes much deeper into the psychological aspects of the fashion and domestic magazines of the time. (as well as many other things) You might find it a very interesting read.

  7. LOL wow, did they ever go to great lengths to legitimize their fetishes! 🙂 It’s kind of sad, though, when you wonder how many children were seriously abused under the guise of ‘discipline.’ When parents turned to whipping children as a sexual outlet, like the mother who covered them in cream first, that’s sick.

  8. You brought up some very good points, DD. As noted, there was a large debate over whether children of a certain age (or any age) should be punished in such a manner. So clearly, even back then, many considered it an abusive act; and at the very least, a gross humiliation.

    Were these mothers using (even subconsciously) their children to act out sexual fantasies that they were afraid to express to their husbands? Or, as blatant as it seems, are we reading too much into it? Then again, obviously readers back then came to the same conclusions we are so….

  9. Wow….I don’t know what else to say but wow, people have always been weird 😛

  10. Truer words were never spoken.

  11. On one hand kinky, on the other hand, disturbing because we are talking about children in some cases. Of course this is over a 100 years ago and morality was different, stricter in some ways, loose in others, at least compared to the standards we profess today.

  12. Excellent points, Ralfast. And I try never to judge people of the past with our standards of today.

    For me, the disturbing part is the parent using such a method as a form of punishment. Even if they only meant it as that- a punishment with none of the sexual connotation- it sounds so humiliating and I can understand why other parents back then said it shouldn’t be done.

    But yes, different times. I wouldn’t consider those parents as being terrible people. But I am glad such practices are not allowed today upon children. Consenting adults having fun in such a manner is a completely different thing.

  13. I really want to read more about this Holywell Street now… or at least see pictures.

    But the part about the woman applying cream to her daughter is just disturbing. Does the article say what kind of cream? Could it have ameliorated the pain somehow, or was it just for the mother’s, um, pleasure?

  14. Hi Marian,

    The book, “Between Women” by Sharon Marcus only quotes that short line from the letter. I’m hoping it’s really just some kind of ointment. Because otherwise, as you said, it would be very disturbing.

  15. Thanks for the source 🙂

    Tre interesting…

  16. That is so freakish. Totally changes my views of the prudish cold Victorian wife for sure.

  17. Although not the Victorian era, this reminds of a scene in the movie Lady Jane, where Jane’s mother uses a strap (or something like that) on Jane for refusing to marry Edward

  18. Sorry about the double post. 😦

  19. No problem at all, Jenna. I just deleted one of them. 🙂

  20. Hey Lyra,

    Yes. A LOT was going on behind closed doors.

    And this post, for me, is a very good example of the dangers of sexual repression.

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