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Domestic CP - June 1914

Corpun file 19383

New York Times, 22 June 1914

Scientific Spanking.

How Mothers' Club Worked Out a Scale of Punishments.

To the Editor of the New York Times:

Part of press cuttingLetters in THE TIMES some weeks ago concerning judicious and injudicious spanking have caused practically all of the mothers of one little suburban community to question themselves seriously and to good purpose. We are agreed that no question is of greater importance, individually or nationally, than the discipline of our children. I am writing this letter, upon an unpleasant subject, with the hope that what we actually discovered may help other mothers.

At our Mothers' Club we found that before we could make any progress with this problem, we must find, first, just what is the prevailing practice, and, second, define our terms. Of the thirty-four mothers of the organisation all but one admitted using corporal punishment at some time in some form. To them "corporal punishment" meant anything from an occasional shaking to the most formal and severe flogging. As many as fifty-six children, of from 2 to 18, were involved.

To get at something definite, each mother described in writing, without her name, the last offense for which her child had been punished corporally and just what the punishment had been. The statements revealed the most appalling lack of definite principles or agreement. For mere carelessness, some children were punished more severely than were others for willful disobedience or even moral turpitude. Strangely enough, the girls were treated much more severely than the boys. Taken as a whole, the offenses and the punishments bore no fixed or logical relationship to each other.

Each mother defined her idea of a punishment for a definite offense. (The "definite offense" was clear to all of us, but could not be made so to others in a few words.) The punishments were absurdly different. They ranged from those that the child could hardly feel to fifty blows of the English rod or Scotch taws. In twenty-eight out of the thirty-four families some form of spanking prevailed -- ruler, paddle, hand, switch, strap, rod, were, in the order named, the instruments of correction. The blows ranged in number from three to "oh, until my strength gives out, probably a hundred or more." Remember that the children were playmates, in the same neighborhood, constantly comparing notes, no doubt. Generally, a portion or all of the clothing was removed. In only six families was there a consistent rule to make the discipline wholly private.

We realize that every child is different from every other child, every childish act different from every other, and that punishment should not function largely. Yet the present lack of agreement is senseless. Granted that corporal punishment is a necessary evil, or, granted merely that in most families it is used, most mothers, judging from our survey, either do not really punish when they think they do or are positively brutal.

Our club will classify, roughly, all offenses into three groups -- thoughtlessness, disobedience, moral turpitude. In each category, we shall set as a standard a maximum and minimum punishment -- some form of spanking that really punishes, without injury -- duly modified according to age. For instance, in the second category, the minimum punishment will probably be one blow of the paddle for every year of the culprit's age, and the maximum four. We are agreed that all punishment shall be upon the bare skin, always in private. The mothers are pledged to carry out the decision.

If we must have corporal punishment at all, let us know what we are doing, what our neighbors are doing, and rationalize and standardize punishment.

Haverford, Penn., June 19, 1914.

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