To Punish Scolds



In Law Latin There Was No Word For Male Common Scold — Woman Indicted In Jersey City In 1889 as a Common Scold.

Not only is the common scold still within the purview of laws against routs and riots and favoring tranquility of the vicinage, but it is held that the ducking stool is yet a means of punishment should some appreciative Pennsylvania judge have the nerve to decree a renewal of its use. Fine and imprisonment are the modern refuge agains the shrewish. No judge would care to return to the old ways, for the gossips might wonder over his woman hatred and the public might think he was getting personal.

It is likely that few people know that the ducking stool was once employed in Pittsburg. It is held that women had more grounds for scolding in pioneer days than now, and hence the stool should again be brought into requisition.

The English settlers brought to the United States the ducking stool as an implement of punishment, as they imported the common law. At Plymouth, whence the pilgrims sailed, can be seen today the old ducking stools. Even in 1808 a woman was ducked there. The Puritans brought over the common scold law, and it was adopted in New Jersey and Delaware. In 1889 the grand jury of Jersey City indicted Mrs. Mary Brady as a common scold. It was found to be there, as here, still an indictable offense, and that the ducking stool was yet available as a means of punishment, not having been specifically abolished by the revised statutes.

The stool was used in Virginia, for Bishop Meade, in his “Old Churches, Ministers and Families In Virginia,” writes of ducking scolds from a vessel in the James river. From the Old Dominion the practice of thus treating scolds reached Pittsburg. It would be digressing to repeat the history of the establishment of courts in this city by Virginia, which began Feb. 21, 1775. On the second day of that court, the birthday of George Washington, then but 43, the sheriff was ordered to employ workmen to build a ducking stool at the confluence of the Ohio with the Monongahela.

By patient delying one can dig up much curious information about the ducking stool. Allusions to it recur in English chronicles all through the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Scolding women in these olden times were deemed offenders against the public peace. Blackstone in his “Commentaries” treats of the common scold in his chapter on “Public Wrongs.” After discussing offenses of graver degree his prelude is, “To descend next to offenses whose punishment is short of death.” These offenses are such, he says, “as annoy the whole community in general, and not merely some particular portion, and therefore are indictable, not actionable, as it would be unreasonable to multiply suits by giving every man a separate right of action for what damnifies him in common only with the rest of his fellow subjects.”

Then the great jurist treats of six classes of public nuisances and concludes: “Lastly, a common scold, communis rixatrix (for our law Latin confines it to the feminine gender), is a public nuisance to her neighborhood. She may be indicted, and if convicted placed in a certain engine of correction, called the trebucket, castigatory or cucking stool, which in the Saxon language is said to signify the scold stool, though now it is frequently corrupted into ducking stool because the residue of the judgement is that when she is so placed therein she shall be plunged in water for her punishment.”

Blackstone was a better jurist than etymologist. There was in even as early as the fifteenth century the punishment of sitting in the cucking stool for using short weights, selling bad ale and scolding, but it was a chair of disgrace placed in front of the offender’s own home. In the lapse of time the cucking and the ducking stool became synonymous.

In his “Travels In England” in 1700 Mission writes: “The way of punishing scolding women is pleasant enough. They fasten an armchair to the end of two beams, 12 or 15 foot long and parallel to each other, so that these two pieces of wood with their two ends embrace the chair, which hangs between them upon a sort of axle, by which means it plays freely and always remains in the natural horizontal position in which the chair should be, that a person may sit conveniently in it, whether you raise it or let it down. They set up a post on the bank of a pond or river, and over this post they lay, almost in equilibrium, the two pieces of wood, at one end of which the chair hangs over the water.”

The English poets have had their thrusts at the ducking stool, when their eyes in fine frenzy rolling seem to have caught inspiration from the temper of the shrew. In 1665, in “Homer a la Mode,” the poet sings:

She belonged to Billingsgate
And oftentimes had rid in state
And sat in the bottom of a pool
Enthroned in a ducking stool.

West wrote a complete poem on the stool in 1780, the philosophy of which likes in the extracted couplet:

No brawling wives, no furious wenches,
No fire so hot but water quenches.

All through England there were the stools used for ducking scolds. There was one at Rugby, and in 1820 a man was ducked for beating his wife. Court records reveal many instances where the penalty was inflicted on women.

The chair used at Scarborough, England, is yet preserved. It was last used in 1795, when Mrs. Gamble was “ducked three times over the head and cars.” In the museum at Ipswich is another. It has rods converging over the seat, with a ring through which to run a pole. In 1728 the constable of Morley charged 2 shillings for a pole. The stools in some cities were on wheels, and were called scolding carts. At Kingston-upon-Thames ducking was not infrequent, and the London Post in 1715 reports the ducking of  “a woman who keeps the Queen’s Head alehouse for scolding, in the presence of 3,000 people.” It was at Leominster in 1809 that the last recorded ducking of a woman occurred in England. The stool used is preserved in the jail there. Jenny Pipes was paraded through town on the stool and ducked near Konwater bridge.

Common Scold Wearing a Brank or Bridle

Common Scold Wearing a Brank or Bridle

There was another instrument of punishment for scolds, but not as ancient as the stool. It was the brank, or scold’s bridle. Its modern autotype is the mask of the baseball catcher, except there was a sharpened plate of iron in front that hurt the tongue when an effort to talk was made. The brank figures in literature as frequently as the stool. — Pittsburg Dispatch.

Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) Feb 16, 1901

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “To Punish Scolds”

  1. Common Scolds and Ducking Stools « YesterYear Once More Says:

    […] more on scolds and ducking, see my “To Punish Scolds” post. There will also be two more posts on this topic, later this […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: