Corpun file 21329
British Medical Journal, London, 5 January 1935, p.38
Corporal Punishment for Girls
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SIR,-- Dr. R. L. Kitching deserves our thanks for his exposure
of a grave social blot: it seems incredible that the Board of
Education should be apparently content with its present attitude
towards the corporal punishment of female children.
I feel very strongly that Dr. Kitching did not go far enough, and
that the time has come when caning or birching of any child under
sixteen years, whether by policemen, school teachers, or parents,
should be illegal. Our sailors and soldiers, even our criminals,
are now protected by law, except in the case of gross offences.
Only children are, in this matter, "nobody's child,"
and are the victims of a form of "correction" which is
a relic of barbarism.
I like to think that Dr. Kitching's letter will be read in a
hundred years' time, or less, as we now read accounts of the
hanging of children for larceny, and I am glad to be able to
inform you that the Belfast Education Committee and its Director
of Education are discouraging the casual use of the cane in all
elementary schools. From my personal experience I can state that
even a very large mixed school of over one thousand pupils, whose
ages vary from six to nineteen years, can be conducted with
perfect discipline and without any form of corporal punishment.
-- I am, etc.,
Belfast, Dec. 23rd, 1934.
SIR, -- The letter of Dr. R. L. Kitching on the caning of
girls in public elementary schools deserves more attention than
the Board of Education seems inclined to give it. A few weeks ago
in a talk on epilepsy which I gave to the teachers in the
Plymouth Council schools, I stated that I considered the caning
of girls was wrong and ought to be stopped by the Board of
Education, and I quoted a case which recently came to my notice,
where a girl who was certainly threatened with epilepsy, if not a
definite epileptic, had been caned because she was late for
school. Believing as I do that the starting-point of epilepsy is
so largely psychogenic, it seems to me obvious that caning must
often convert the ordinary nervous child into an epileptic, with
very dire consequences for the unfortunate child.
Caning from the teacher's point of view is a very facile remedy,
whilst the dangers which might be consequent upon it have never
been pointed out to these teachers. Surely this ought to have
been done, and surely it ought to be within the competence of the
Board to find a less dangerous remedy. I do not suppose that my
experience has been unique, and now that child guidance clinics
are so numerous, I would suggest to the Board that if it wishes
to arrive at the truth it should make inquiries from them.
Quite apart from the reasons mentioned by Dr. Kitching, with
which, I am sure, any person with experience of girls must agree,
I sincerely hope that the Board will prohibit the caning of girls
entirely, and will relegate the custom into the same category as
shutting children up in dark cupboards. If the Board does see its
way to stop the use of the cane I hope it will appreciate the
fact that the use of a ruler for a similar purpose should also be
-I am, etc.,
E. L. Fox, M.D.
Plymouth, Dec. 28th. 1934.
Corpun file 21692
British Medical Journal, London, 5 January 1935, p.39
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SIR, -- I was interested to observe Dr. R. L. Kitching's
letter about corporal punishment in schools in the British
Medical Journal of December 22nd, 1934 (p. 1178). Although
not qualified to speak on the medical aspect of such correction I
often encountered it as a school teacher in the Durham mining
area, and, after my marriage, when visiting patients in my late
husband's practice among the mining community.
I remember on several occasions as a teacher inquiring of girls
of 12 and 13 who arrived at school crying why they were crying,
and receiving the reply: "Mi father (or mother)'s just given
me t'belt." Further inquiries revealed the fact that the
belt was practically always applied to bare skin with the child
across the knee and the undergarments drawn down. I remember,
too, visiting a miner's cottage and hearing loud screams as I
walked up the path. I opened the door and walked in to find the
miner, with his eldest daughter, aged about 15, across his knee,
vigorously applying a slipper to the girl's unprotected seat,
while the mother stood complacently by. I remonstrated strongly
with the couple, while the child hastily adjusted her clothing
and fled sobbing into the back room. The parents, however, were
adamant. The girl had taken to staying out very late at night.
She had been warned several times, but had taken no notice; now
she had been punished and there was an end of the matter.
It is more years than I care to remember since I lived in the
mining area and times may have changed, but I think, in the face
of such severity in the home, it is expecting rather too much of
teachers to maintain order by other methods than corporal
punishment, for a girl who is accustomed to being punished as
mentioned above is not likely to be unduly hurt by two or three
taps on the hand with a cane, and is still less likely to be
amenable to milder methods of correction. Dr. Kitching is
approaching the matter from the wrong angle. His first endeavour
should be to abolish corporal punishment in the home, and it will
then be time enough to abolish it at school.
I am, etc.,
Southend-on-Sea, Dec. 24th, 1934.
Corpun file 21328
British Medical Journal, London, 12 January 1935, p.85
Corporal Punishment for Girls
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SIR, -- Dr. R. L. Kitching invited opinions on the above
question in your issue of December 22nd, 1934. During my sixteen
years' experience as a school medical officer in the West Riding,
Yorkshire, Lancashire, Swindon, and Gosport I have had no
complaint from parents or others on the corporal punishment of
girls, though quite frequently on its application to boys. In
fact, I was under the impression that the big girls never were
caned, and I have been frequently told by numerous teachers and
girls themselves that they are not. I have even protested against
the unfairness of caning boys and sparing the girls.
I am no advocate of corporal punishment, and favour every other
form of correction being tried first before recourse to this
brutal method, which is more suitable for creatures that can only
be made to feel through their skin. If the corporal punishment of
girls is as rare as I think it is, the question hardly merits
further consideration; so I shall be interested to see what
others have to say on this point.
With regard to Dr. Kitching's two objections to caning girls: (1)
"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
more severe than is safe": surely the same might be said of
a boy who is caned while suffering from toothache, or any other
ache, or of a highly sensitive and thin-skinned victim, or of a
hefty hitter whose intentions are nicer than his blows. Then
again, the safety line is not easily defined or discernible; some
children may be damaged by blows which would have little effect
on the tougher and less sensitive. Much the same may be said of
Dr. Kitching's second objection -- namely, "Some of the
girls must be suffering from menstrual nervous strain, and the
added strain may be more than the girl can safely bear." All
will agree, I think, that it is undesirable to increase nervous
strain, whatever its cause or whatever the means. But both sexes
may suffer from nervous strain, and physical pain is by no means
the only or most potent way of increasing it. If caning is to be
barred on this ground then any other cause of emotional
disturbance should be also. I have heard many children say they
would infinitely prefer the stick to an upsetting talk on their
I cannot therefore agree that Dr. Kitching has given sufficient
reasons for any discrimination between the sexes, but I do agree
with him that the cane should be the last and not the first
resource of the teacher. I think this is the general opinion of
the teachers themselves, except, perhaps, those in the public
schools, where the worst features of mediaevalism are apt to be
perpetuated or shed but slowly and reluctantly. Certainly, in the
elementary schools at least, one hears of more humanity and less
barbarity than was the case not so many years ago.
- I am, etc.,
G. W. FLEMING,
Medical Officer of Health.
Gosport, Jan. 2nd.
SIR,- The correspondence on the above subject, up to the present,
has been so one-sided that I feel that something must be said for
the opposite point of view. First, however, I must state most
emphatically that I loathe and detest cruelty to children of
either sex, and my subsequent remarks, therefore, relate only to
corporal punishment moderately administered.
The main point I should like to bring out is to ask the question
why corporal punishment is said to be beneficial to boys and yet
harmful to girls. Can the female sex bear pain less easily than
the male? I do not think so, and in any case most child-bearing
women have far more pain to bear than any man. Then, surely, if a
girl commits an offence for which a boy would receive corporal
punishment it is only equable that she should receive the same
punishment. In these days of equality of treatment for the sexes
I cannot see how this can be gainsaid. In the mixed schools
referred to by Dr. Kitching (Journal, December 22nd, p. 1178)
this is of obvious importance.
Dr. Kitching mentions the menstrual epoch. I cannot follow him at
all. Menstruation is a normal physiological process, and could be
much better sustained by the adolescent girl if her mother did
not make such a fetish of it. Normal menstruation does not
produce any invalidity at all, and its neurotic accompaniments
are all too often the result of maternal suggestion.
Then to state, as Dr. Fox does (January 5th, p. 38), that
epilepsy may follow corporal punishment is surely unsubstantiated
by evidence. Epilepsy is not limited to the female sex, and all I
can say is that if Dr. Fox is right I should have expected to see
our public schools full of epileptic boys, due to the combined
ministrations of the head master, the house master, and the
prefects to the corporal needs of the boys.
Lastly, with reference to the letter of Mrs. Harriet Smith
(January 5th, p. 39), I can only say that I feel considerable
sympathy with the Durham miner, who was doing his best in his
non-psychological way to prevent his daughter becoming a bad
girl. I am afraid that the average parent has not the expert
training in psychology which would allow him or her to deal by
suggestion with all the offences of their girls. What else could
the miner do when moral suasion had failed? How often do girls go
wrong and the parents are blamed for their lack of authority? A
mere "don't" may be sufficient to control some girls,
possibly coupled with a reasoned argument explaining the correct
conduct. But is it likely that a Durham miner would be able to
make such means of correction sufficiently strong to alter the
conduct of some headstrong girl? It is not, and, moreover,
parents a great deal better educated also find the greatest
difficulty in controlling their children.
It may be said that corporal punishment is degrading. If it is
the same statement applies to both sexes. But no one suggests
that the public school boy is degraded; he gets his share of
corporal punishment. Such punishment is very definitely a
deterrent -- and to many obstinate and self-willed children the
only deterrent -- to wrongdoing. Solomon's advice, I feel
certain, was not limited to one sex, and I contend that it holds
I am, etc.,
F. A. BELAM, M.D.
Guildford, Jan. 6th.
Corpun file 21690
British Medical Journal, London, 19 January 1935, p.130
Corporal Punishment for Girls
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SIR,- As a contribution to the correspondence started by Dr.
Kitching, you might possibly find the following of interest.
A few months ago two little girls, smiling happily, entered my
consulting room, one of them having some trivial complaint. When
I spoke to the child, who was 10 years of age, she suddenly burst
into hysterical and causeless sobbing. Evidently her emotions
were on a hair trigger. "What is the matter with X.?"
said I to the other child; "has she been fighting with the
school teacher?" "She got the strap this
afternoon," was the reply. "Oh!" said I, looking
as grave as I could; "what was she up to this time?"
The reply, given with the slow gravity of a witness who fully
appreciated her sister's wickedness, was quite interesting:
"She was staring about," said the child. I
interviewed the child's mother, and learnt, inter alia,
that the child would waken during the night crying out "No,
Miss; no, Miss!"
This little case history is, as I am well aware from my own
experience, in full accord with the traditions of pedagogy. I do
not wish any annoyance to be caused to the teacher concerned, who
is a very decent, conscientious girl, no less than the child a
victim of the machine; I therefore withhold my name and address.
-I am, etc.,
SIR,- I heartily agree with Dr. Kitching's views on corporal
punishment for girls. Dr. Belam refers to the menstrual period as
a "normal physiological process." He is quite right,
but is it so very rare to find that there is an abnormality
attending the normal process? Even when the process is normal
there is an accompanying nervous tension, which is greatly
augmented in cases of the abnormal "normal process,"
and which may easily be strained too far.
Personally, I am very much against corporal punishment for either
sex. In my school days (not so very far distant) the master who
really understood his business never required to resort to
corporal punishment, while the man who thought himself a teacher
merely because he had taken the necessary degrees was continually
flogging his pupils. Did this make them behave? It did not!
A child is an amazingly complex individual, and nine times out of
ten can be led where he or she will not be driven. Undoubtedly
this leading may be difficult, but since the school teacher has
such a great influence on the future of the pupil it is of the
utmost importance that he should not spare himself in his efforts
to bring out the best qualities in those under his care. These
best qualities will never be brought out, nor the bad qualities
governed, by flogging.
With regard to the Durham miner mentioned by Mrs. Harriet Smith,
it seems to me that his daughter must have been faultily brought
up from early childhood, as otherwise she would have had
sufficient regard for her parents and for herself to obey their
wishes, making it quite unnecessary for her father to exercise
his authority in a fashion so brutal and indecent.
-I am, etc.,
TOM R. WILKIE-MILLAR.
Edinburgh, Jan. 14th.
SIR,- The physiological objections to the caning of girls are
effectually dealt with by Dr. Belam in your issue of January
12th. There is, however, another aspect of the question which
merits consideration. I refer to the psychological.
It is an established fact that the buttocks are an important
erotogenic zone, more particularly in girls, and corporal
punishment during the formative years of adolescence may have
far-reaching consequences in their subsequent sexual life. These
will be none the less dangerous for lying hidden. Of even greater
moment, perhaps, is the effect that such punishment may have on
the master. Sadism and masochism are more than mere labels, and
the infliction of corporal punishment cannot but foster in some
degree these dangerous aberrations.
While not advocating its total abolition, I think that a man
should in no case be allowed to cane a girl, nor a woman to cane
a boy beyond the age of 10. Apart from this consideration, the
question of discipline seems to be essentially a matter for the
discretion of the school rather than of the education
authorities. In most industrial districts the strap or the cane
is the ultimate argument of parents, and if they have no quarrel
with its employment in the schools there seems to be no reason
why the authorities should interfere.
-I am, etc.,
R. BUDDLE ATKINSON, M.A.
Ellesmere, Shropshire, Jan. 12th.
Follow-up: 16 February 1935 - Correspondence: The Caning of Girls
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