“Common Scolds” Have Their Days in Court


This first account is about some Native American school children who evidently got  tired of their “Yankee” school teacher’s scolding:

THE natural law which writers on jurisprudence recognize seems to be a good deal like old English law in some respects. The penalty of ducking for intolerable scolds, enacted by statute in England, is a part of the natural code among the young savages of America. In Dakota some of the Indian children attend school; the teacher being of the usual Yankee school marm standard; but a more than average hand to scold. For a time the Indian pupils submitted tolerably well to the discipline of the schoolroom, but recently an outbreak came all at once. The Indian pupils made, one afternoon, a dash at the teacher, carried her out of doors to the creek, and there actually ducked her in the water with her head downward! Of course this was rather below the English method, where a ducking stool was used, and the victim went down feet foremost, but it was the best plan that suggested itself to the untutored minds of “the young barbarians all at play.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Feb 27, 1875


In regards to the law:

Counseller Ruddiman has in charge a bill mentioned before — but a propos in this connection, resurrecting a relic of the past in the shape of a whipping post for wife beaters and it is expected that Statesman Law, to be even with his colleague, will shortly rehabilitate the ducking stool as a protection for hen pecked husband.

Indiana Weekly Messenger (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Mar 16, 1881


THE Philadelphia Press is clamoring for a revival of the old law which punished “common scolds” by public ducking. It says there is increasing frequency of “common scold” cases in the Pennsylvania courts, and suggest that a “gentle dip or two in the Delaware” would be more effective than a “temporary sojourn in the house of correction.”

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Jul 1, 1882


This “lady” (I use the word loosely) sounds like quite a character:

South Chester Items.

A case was tried at 7 o’clock last evening before Justice Fields. A warrant was placed in the hands of Constable Elliott, on the oath of Margaret Slack, for the arrest of Margaret Reynolds, charging her with malicious mischief in throwing stones at her windows, appearing on the street in a nude condition, and being a common scold. The evidence was corroborated by several of the neighbors. The justice bound her over in the sum of  $200 bail for her appearance at the next court. She could not get bail. Constable Elliott had a serious time in getting her to the lockup. He had to drag her part of the way. She was determined that she would not go to the lockup, but the officer finally succeeded in getting her there.

Chester Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) Aug 19, 1882

Com. vs. Margaret Reynolds. — Assault and battery, common scold, open lewdness, malicious mischief, drunkenness; in fact charged with almost every crime at the tail end of the catalogue of criminal offenses, next engaged the court. Mrs. Slack was the prosecutor. Mr. Slack was her chief witness, and all lived next door to each other. Poor Margaret claimed a good character, told a tale of wondrous good works and got off, never to come back again.

Chester Times (Chester, Pennsylvania) Sep 21, 1882


More on the law…and a warning!

THE law on the statute books of Philadelphia providing for the punishment of women who are common scolds has been revived and a number of scolding women have been arrested and released on giving bond to keep the peace. The penalty for this offense is ducking and the ducking-stool will have to be resorted to should anyone be convicted. As this law applies with equal force to all parts of the State, some of our Indiana people should cut the item out and paste it on the looking glass.

Indiana Weekly Messenger (Indiana, Pennsylvania) Aug 7, 1889


Now, this one is particularly funny:


A Judicial Lecture to a Common Scold.

NEW YORK, Feb. 10. — Elizabeth Schultz, the old German woman who made such a nuisance of herself that she fell into the hands of Jersey justice and was convicted of the crime of being a common scold, was before Judge Hudspeth of Jersey City to-day for sentence.

“Madame,” said Judge Hudspeth, as she stood up to receive her sentence, “you occupy a unique position before this court, having had the inestimable distinction of being the second person convicted here of being a common scold. There was a time in the history of this state when such serious and reprehensible offenses as yours were punished by means of a ducking pond. But in this advanced age and more enlightened civilization the laws have been altered, so that it is in the power of the court to inflict a more humane punishment. Madame, apparently you have no control of your tongue at all. You are a nuisance. You have driven people out of the locality in which you live. You have disturbed the peace and comfort of your neighbors. You have made of yourself an unmitigated nuisance. Your offense against the peace of this commonwealth is a very grave one. You must keep quiet and silent. You must understand this. You must keep your tongue silent. The court has considered your case, and has given due weight to the appeals that have been made in your behalf. The sentence of the court is that you pay a fine of $10 and the costs of the prosecution.”

During this speech Mrs. Schultz had remained absolutely silent. When it was finished her lawyer led her to the clerk of the court and she paid the fines and costs, amounting in all to $76. Then she left the courtroom and trudged silently home. It should be added that Mrs. Schultz knows no English, and hence did not understand a word the judge said.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Feb 15, 1893


A Common Scold.

POTTSDOWN, Pa., April 17. — Chief Burgess Evans committed Hannah Fry, a single woman, to prison, charged by Councilman March with being a common scold.

Bismarck Daily Tribune (Bismarck, North Dakota) Apr 18, 1893

NOTE: At least two others were tried, Mrs.Hannah Underwood of Hopewood, acquitted in1890, and prior to her, Hannah Young, from Washington Twp., convicted, but found to be insane, so she was confined to an asylum, per an article in The Courier (Connellsville, Pennsylvania) dated June 13, 1890.

Might want to think twice before naming a daughter,  Hannah.


Philadelphia North American:

Ellen Getz, who was sentenced to three months in the county prison yesterday, should have lived in the old Puritan days. Mrs. Getz’s offense was that of being a common scold and of using language that would put the proverbial swearing trooper to blush. Such cases are rare now, in those days, however, common scolds were numerous, and sometimes they were publicly ducked at the town pump; in rare cases publicly whipped; but usually they were bound and gagged and stood on the main street for several hours, bearing on their breasts a placard labeled: “Common Scold.” Mrs. Getz escaped all this, and she was lucky. Let her reflect accordingly. It is hard enough to hear a man swear; but a woman! Let us hope that Mrs. Getz, and all like her, will take Judge Gordon’s advice and put a bridle on their tongues for the future.

Galveston Daily News (Galveston, Texas) Jul 18, 1895


FINALLY! A male scold gets his:

The shoe never appeared so ostentatiously on the other foot as it did the other day in a New York police court when a former subject of the kaiser was arraigned as a common scold and proven guilty on the testimony of the women of the neighborhood, whom he was always trying to drive inside from their doorsteps. He had even turned the hose on them when they stepped out for fresh air after ten o’clock. The court held him in $400 bonds for the future good behavior of his mouth, much to the delight of the neighbors.

“Who ever heard,” exclaimed his irate lawyer, “of a man being a common scold?”

“I did, just now,” his honor replied, “and unless he furnished $400 bail he will take a ride in the wagon outside.”

The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) Aug 11, 1898


This may have been the first conviction for Fayette County, but Pennsylvania seems to be the most likely state to be charged with being a “common scold.” In fact, the law still may be on the books today, although I haven’t checked. I found an article from 1961 of a woman being charged with the crime. She seemed rather amused by  the whole thing.

For the first time in the history of Fayette county, Pa., a person has been convicted of being a common scold, a verdict having been rendered in the case of Mrs. Carrie Eicher, of near Brownsville. Adam H. Zeigler, a neighbor, made the complaint. Children started the trouble.

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) Sep 16, 1904

Carrie Eicher, who resides near Brownsville, Pa., in the vicinity of Uniontown, Pa., recently convicted on the charge of being a “common scold,” when she appeared for sentence was allowed to go on the payment of the costs, $35.21. Her attorney explained that she had moved away to Grindstone, and that she could no longer create a disturbance in the place where complaint was made against her.

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) Sep 28, 1904

For more on Scolds, see my post, “Common Scolds and Ducking Stools.”

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