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History of Battered Women's Shelters

A query about the first battered women's shelter and who started it 
gave rise to the following set of responses on WMST-L in April 2001.
For additional WMST-L files now available on the Web, see the
WMST-L File Collection.
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 15:04:03 -0500
From: Christine Smith <casmith @ MNSTATE.EDU>
Subject: history of battered women's movement
I have a student doing a paper on the battered women's movement.  What
she hasn't been able to find is--what was the first shelter and who
started it?  She ahs found general info about "why" but needs for
details.  thanks!

christine smith
casmith  @  mnstate.edu
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 19:09:01 -0400
From: hagolem <hagolem @ C4.NET>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
It is my memory that the first shelters were in England, and that women in
the movement here heard about them from there.

marge piercy hagolem  @  c4.net
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 16:16:39 -0700
From: susan wood <woodsu @ UCS.ORST.EDU>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
In Amy Richard's and Jennifer Baumgartner's *Manifesta, Young Women and
Feminism,* they mention that in 1970 there were only two women's shelters in
the U.S., but I can't remember the details and I don't have the text with
me.  I believe the discussion on these shelters is in the introductory

Susan Wood
Oregon State U
woodsu  @  ucs.orst.edu
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 00:26:35 +0100
From: Judy Evans <jae29 @ BTINTERNET.COM>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
I wrote off-List, but it may be of general interest.  Yes, the first
shelters were here. The very first was Erin Pizzey's at Chiswick
in West London.
Judy Evans, Cardiff, Wales
dragonwhisperer  @  btinternet.com
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 16:40:48 -0700
From: j.l.tallentire <jltallen @ INTERCHANGE.UBC.CA>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
Hi. Depends what you think of as the scope of the movement.
The first battered women's shelter would be the convent in medieval Europe
[if not earlier]. As a more formal institution - hospices for battered wives
(Malmaritate) can be found in Italy in the sixteenth century.

Here's an excerpt from my MA thesis:

The abused and abandoned wife was combined into the term malmaritate, an
understated term meaning  unhappily married.  The malmaritate was a widely
known and popular figure in early modern literature.  Unhappily married  was
a state presented as the woman s problem, to which only she had the solution
(by modifying her life). Her husband s infidelities, waste, and violence are
not addressed as problems that he must control, but rather conditions that
she must endure. It is she who must find a refuge, who must  reform  or
 repent  to make the marriage work again
..The refuge was very necessary for women who could not afford to live
outside the home or without their husbands.
    Women in this category were perhaps the most ambiguously treated in the
institutions. Sympathy for the perils of a woman in a dangerous, even fatal
situation was conflated with misconceptions of a victim s responsibility for
her circumstance. This is illustrated in the statues of the
sixteenth-century Florentine confraternity, the Compagnia di Santa Maddalena
sopra le Malmaritate:

there exists in the city of Florence a great multitude of immoral women,
many of which would turn to penitence if they had a place in which to
retire...they are unable to become nuns because they have husbands [or for
other reasons]...We want the house that we will set up to be called the Casa
delle Malmaritate [House of the Unhappily Married Women]. [Cohen, Evolution
of Women s Asylums, p.13.]

The Casa del Soccorso di San Paolo in sixteenth-century Bologna included
prostitutes, women in abusive marriages (malmaritate), victims of  rape, and
girls betrayed by suitors  broken promises of marriage in exchange for their

for resources check out:
Sherrill Cohen, The Evolution of Women s Asylums Since 1500 (New York:
Oxford University Press, 1992)
-an absolute must if you want a true historical context for women's
institutions - Cohen's timeline starts as early as the fourteenth century
and includes a chapter linking early modern European institutions to
19th-century American ones, a rare instance of bridging the historical gaps
between fields

Lucia Ferrante, "Honour Regained: Women in the Casa del Soccorso di San
Paolo in Sixteenth-Century Bologna" in E. Muir and G. Ruggiero, eds., Sex
and Gender in Historical Perspective, trans. M.Gallucci (Baltimore: Johns
Hopkins University Press, 1990)

Anne J. Cruz,  La bella malmaridada: Lessons for the Good Wife  A.Cruz and
M.E.Perry, eds. Culture and Control in Counter-Reformation Spain
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1992)

I think the knowledge that there have been shelters for battered women for
over four hundred years strengthens the study of the movement and gives a
sense of a continuing commitment (regardless of the particular social
consciousness of the age) to women over time and national boundaries. Women
didn't just 'wake up' in the late 19th century, nor is the leading edge of
feminist movement always the US.

j. l. t a l l e n t i r e
PhD student, History
University of British Columbia
jltallen  @  interchange.ubc.ca
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 20:15:10 -0400
From: Jo-Ann Pilardi <pilardi @ SABER.TOWSON.EDU>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
Concerning _ManifestA_:  Ijust used it for the first time for a course
and have found some omissions and other bits of questionable historical
info. in it.  Generally I liked it and appreciated very much its
activist bent and wealth of information on current organizations, but I
wouldn't use it as the first or last word on the history of the women's
movement. (I also found its definition of feminism very narrow.)

    Jo-Ann Pilardi pilardi  @  saber.towson.edu
    Director, Towson Univ. Women's Studies
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 20:26:20 -0400
From: Rebecca Tolley-Stokes <tolleyst @ ACCESS.ETSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
I have my copy of Manifesta handy....the index lists 2 pages devoted to
domestic violence.

p. 59
"in the seventies and eighties, shelters, funded by grassroots feminist
groups and fledgling foundation (like the early Ms. Foundation for Women),
proliferated, but the government, the police, and the media outlets still
paid very little attention to violence inside the home. For example, the
first shelter for women in the United States was started in California in

sorry, but I didn't see any specific shelters named in/near this passage,
and I don't have time right now for an in-depth search, but maybe this is
what you were thinking of?


Rebecca Tolley-Stokes
Catalog Librarian
Sherrod Library, ETSU
423.439.4410 fax
tolleyst  @  etsu.edu
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 20:58:10 -0400
From: Dra. Rosa Maria Pegueros <rpe2836u @ POSTOFFICE.URI.EDU>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
If the first shelter was in California, there's a good chance that it was
in Los Angeles. In about 1990, Nancy Matthews, sociologist now teaching in
Chicago, filed her dissertation on the rape crisis movement in Los Angeles.
Her dissertation may have that information. You can send her an e-mail at:
<N-Matthews  @  neiu.edu>
Date: Wed, 25 Apr 2001 22:09:05 -0400
From: Daphne Patai <daphne.patai @ SPANPORT.UMASS.EDU>
Subject: Erin Pizzey, then and now, on domestic violence
Erin Pizzey wrote the first book on domestic violence: Scream Quietly, or
the Neighbors will Hear (1974). She is recognized as the founder of the
movement against domestic violence: in 1971 she started the first shelter
for battered women, Chiswick Women's Refuge, in London.

She later spent five years in the US and came to believe that there  are as
many violent women as men.  In 1982, she coauthored, with Jeff Shapiro, a
book called Prone to Violence, about women's role in domestic violence.  It
encountered such hostility from feminists that, she says, her life was even
threatened.  See her comments to David Thomas, in his book Not Guilty: The
Case in Defense of Men (1993).  Pizzey says there that the reason the
women's movement ignores this problem is because "There's a lot of money in
hating men, particularly in the United states--millions of dollars.  It
isn't a politically good idea to threaten the huge budgets for women's
refuges by saying that some of the women who go into them aren't total
victims.  Anyway, the activists aren't there to help women come to terms
with what's happening in their lives. They're there to fund their budgets,
their conferences, their traveling abroad, and their statements against men"
(Thomas, pp. 186-87).

Of course, that was before VAWAI and II, which have put even more money into
the fight against violence against women (my own university's Everywoman's
Center got $400,000 last year).

daphne.patai  @  spanport.umass.edu
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 08:08:15 -0400
From: Womenspace <diamond @ FOX.NSTN.CA>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
Hi Sisters

I worked in England in the battered women's movement from 1972 to 1975.  I
stayed in the shelter in Chiswick for a month, as a student on
placement.  I was allowed in because someone suggested I could answer the
door to their husbands.  At one point there were 36 women and children in a
house with two rooms upstairs and 2 down, with a toilet across the
yard.  There was a bus repair yard across the street, where engines roared
all night.  It wasn't comfortable, but it was certainly needed!

Chiswick Women's Aid is generally credited with being the first shelter for
battered women.  It was certainly among the first, and had the most
publicity.  At the time there had been a legislative change in England,
where the shelters for the homeless were no longer sex segregated.  Women
could no longer escape with their children.  This is written up by Jalna
Hanmer in a collection - but I don't have the reference (please look for
Jalna's work - or I'll have to search and tidy my entire
basement).  Coincidentally there were storefront non-profits offering
advice, mainly legal advice.  Women went to them, and some allowed women to
stay overnight, even if it broke the rental/lease agreement.  Chiswick WA
came out of a local women's group who provided shelter, and Erin Pizzey
became the person known for the work of Chiswick Women's Aid.  There were
several other "shelters" at the time, I remember there was one in
Battersea, London, which was a squat in a house with very few windows.  Of
course, squatting was a strong movement at the time, also.

Blaming women started fairly early, with Erin's backing of the paper "10
types of battered women", with such characterisations as "Doris Doormat"
and "Go-Go Gloria".  This was loosely based on a questionnnaire filled in
by women, or who were helped to fill it in, on entry to the shelter.  In
the US I remember Suzanne Steinmetz did a paper at the 1975, which pointed
the finger at so called violent women.  It was a heated debate on both
sides of the Atlantic.  Some feminists pointed out that women said they
sometimes "provoked" the violence because they knew him well and could see
by his behaviour what was coming, and wanted to get it over with, or by
precipitating it could find ways to avoid the worst.  But I have not seen
this written up.

In 1975 there was a shelter in Minneapolis/St Paul and I knew of one woman
in New Jersey who simply opened her house.  It was a busy spot.

Best wishes

Jo Sutton
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 10:55:25 -0400
From: "Ertel, Mary (Soc'lgy)" <Ertel @ MAIL.CCSU.EDU>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
I recall a book from London called "Cry Softly or the Neighbors Will Hear,"
by Erin Pinney (not sure of the spelling).  This was about the start of the
battered women's movement in England, and the book had impact on effecting a
like movement in the US.  I have no idea where you would find a copy.
Mary Ertel

ps - if I come across anything else at home, I'll let you know.

Mary L. Ertel, Professor, Sociology
Central Connecticut State University
Date: Thu, 26 Apr 2001 11:09:57 -0700
From: j.l.tallentire <jltallen @ INTERCHANGE.UBC.CA>
Subject: Re: history of battered women's movement
Hi again. Like I noted before, the first battered women's shelter was
certainly not in England in 1971 but in Bologna ca. 1563. The same types of
'informal' sheltering that Jo Sutton notes existed much earlier (centuries)
as well - women knew which convent in town would hide them from their
batterers, or send them to another house in another town. The forming of
charitable groups [confraternities and consororities] to specifically
service battered women began in the 16th century.

Why is this deeper history ignored?
The fact is, we have had four hundred years of battered women's services in
the West, which ebb and flow like they do in this century. The thing that
dismays me is that concept (held by many, but not all) in 16thC Italy that
battered women were 'immoral' because they did not quietly take their abuse
is alive and well four hundred years later, in the concept of the 'violent
woman' or 'she asked for it' or 'what did she do?'
Front line service providers, philanthropic organizations, women's groups,
religious groups, public officials -  all were involved then as now, all had
the same spectrum of ideas about it then as now. What can we learn from it?
What failed then that we are doing today, in ignorance of the past? Why is
the same anti-woman rhetoric being spoken?

It seems to me this might be a good case of the masters tools not
dismantling the masters house.

We should not waste energy insisting that the latest version of the movement
is the only 'true' or 'important' one - we should urgently ask ourselves
what happened that most or all of the provisions for battered women
disappeared from our knowledge, that we think 1971 was a beginning.

j. l. t a l l e n t i r e
PhD student, History
University of British Columbia
jltallen  @  interchange.ubc.ca
Date: Fri, 27 Apr 2001 13:07:12 EDT
From: Lenore Kuo <LKuo333 @ AOL.COM>
Subject: 1st Battered Women's Shelter
When I worked for Haven House in Pasadena, CA, they claimed to be the
first U.S. Shelter though I have heard there was one much earlier in Texas.
Your student might try contacting Haven House, they're very helpful.

Lenore Kuo
Associate Professor University of Nebraska

Research Associate  
City University of New York Graduate Center      
Center for the Study of Women and Society       

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