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School CP - December 1934

Corpun file 21151

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British Medical Journal, London, 22 December 1934, p.1178


Corporal Punishment

A Plea for the Exemption of Girls

SIR,-I would be grateful if you would publish the attached correspondence with a view to finding out what is the opinion of the profession on the question whether the caning of girls can be justified on medical grounds.

I am, etc.,
Wetherby, Yorks, Nov. 28th.

Inglewood, Wetherby, Yorkshire.
October 14th, 1934.


About nine months ago I submitted to the Board of Education some criticisms of Corporal Punishment Regulations which seemed to me to lead to the conclusion that the caning of girls in public elementary schools should be prohibited on medical grounds. The reply was to the effect that the general policy of the Board was to leave the question of corporal punishment to the discretion of the local education authorities, and that the Board "have no reason to apprehend any abuse of this discretion which could be remedied by regulation."

It seemed to me that the policy of the Board was unsound, for the reason that it left the medical question of the effect of caning on the health of the school girl for the decision of individual county medical officers. It seemed to me that, when a county council refers a question of this sort to the county M.O., it is not a personal opinion that is wanted. I submitted this point to the Ministry of Health, and suggested that what is wanted in such a case is the opinion of the appropriate department of the Ministry of Health; and I asked if I might have an opinion from the Ministry of Health on the risks of caning girls during the menstrual period. I was informed on behalf of the Minister of Health "that the matter is not one within his jurisdiction," and that my request should be addressed to your department.
I beg to submit two points:

1. The Corporal Punishment Regulations make it clear that young children must not be caned, but there is nothing in the regulations to suggest that a girl may be too old to be caned. Surely, if it is necessary to make regulations to prevent men caning young children it is just as necessary to make a regulation to prevent the caning of those girls who have developed the physique of womanhood?

2. I submit that the paramount reason for prohibiting the caning of girls in any circumstances is that it is the only certain means by which caning during the menstrual period can be prevented. There are, I suggest, two objections to caning during menstruation that are indisputable: (i) It must happen that some of the girls who are caned are suffering severe menstrual pain at the time, so that the pain inflicted must be more severe than was intended, and therefore may be more severe than is safe. (ii) Some of the girls must be suffering menstrual nervous strain, and the added strain may be more than the girl can safely bear.

It is obvious that caning is a form of punishment which involves serious risks, but it may well be that in the case of boys the risks must be accepted. The point I would submit to the Medical Department is that the risks are so much greater in the case of girls that this method of punishment cannot be justified. I would be grateful if I might be informed of the opinion of your department on this point. If your department is not prepared to advise the total abolition of corporal punishment in the case of girls, would you consider the suggestion that caning should be authorized in their case only between the ages of 8 and 10? I would be glad to know whether your department would make this suggestion to the Board.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

The Secretary, Medical Department,
Board of Education.

Board of Education, Whitehall, S.W.1.
October 18th, 1934.


In reply to your letter of the 14th inst., I am directed to state that the Board are not satisfied that any alteration of policy with regard to corporal punishment is necessary. The Board's views in the matter are set out in the paragraph on discipline contained in the Handbook of Suggestions to Teachers (paragraph 4, page 12). Copies of this publication may be purchased directly from H.M. Stationery Office, York Street, Manchester, or through any bookseller (price 2s. net).

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,


November 3rd, 1934.


Please accept my thanks for your letter of October 18th. Corporal punishment is not mentioned in the paragraph to which you refer me, but it is stated that "some special arrangements for disciplinary purposes . . . are undoubtedly necessary in Mixed Schools . . . and in any large Mixed Schools the head teacher will do well to delegate a considerable measure of authority to one of the assistants of the other sex . . ."

I infer from this that it is the view of the Board that girls should not be caned by men. On the other hand the county councils, in their Corporal Punishment Regulations, give authority to head masters to cane girls. The suggestion I have made, as a family doctor is that girls should not be caned at all by anyone.

I should not have presumed to make any suggestions to the Board of Education if I had not been convinced, first, that the family doctor has far better opportunities than anyone else for judging the effects of caning, and, secondly, that the suggestion I made would be supported by an overwhelming majority of family doctors, and probably of all doctors.

In view of the fact that the Board are not satisfied that any alteration of policy with regard to corporal punishment is necessary, I have no doubt that the right course for me is to raise the matter in one of the medical journals. I propose, therefore, if you have no objection, to send a copy of the letter I sent to the Medical Department, with your reply and this letter, to the British Medical Journal.

I have the honour to be, Sir,
Your obedient Servant,

The Secretary, Board of Education.

Board of Education, Whitehall, S.W.1.
November 27th, 1934.


With reference to your letter of November 23rd, I am directed to state that the Board have no objection to your taking the action proposed in your letter of November 3rd.

I am, Sir, your obedient Servant,

blob Follow-up: 5 January 1935 - Correspondence: Corporal Punishment for Girls

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