Posts Tagged ‘Common Scold’

The Funny Thing About Scolds

March 4, 2009
Drawing from Tales of Pioneer Pittsburgh

Drawing from Tales of Pioneer Pittsburgh

Here is a humorous poem about scolds:

From the Philadelphia True American.
Messrs Printers — One poet has immortalized himself by singing the delights of drinking: half a dozen by pourtraying the joys of love: but it was not until yesterday I knew that the  pleasures of scolding had ever been the subject of song. It is strange, very strange, that the muses, being ladies, could ever condescend to inspire the poet with so ungracious a them. During the storm yesterday I took shelter in Woodward’s bookstore, where to amuse myself, I picked up an old song book, from which I transcribe the following. The concluding line, in which the good woman consoles herself for the lost time in which she sleeps, by saying she will ‘pay them off to-morrow,‘ is excellent and admirably in character.
June 26. ‘PETRUCHIO.’


Some women take delight in dress,
And some in cards take pleasure,
While others place their happiness
In heaping hoards of treasure.
In private some delight to kiss,
Their hidden charms unfolding,
But they mistake their sovereign bliss,
There’s no such joy as scolding.

Each morning as I ope my eyes,
I soon disperse all silence,
Before my neighbours can arise,
They hear my clack a mile hence.
When at the board I take my seat,
There’s one continued riot;
I eat, I scold, I scold, I eat,
My clack is never quiet.

Each night whene’er I go to bed,
I always fall a weeping,
For silence is the thing I dread,
I cannot scold when sleeping.
But then my pains to mitigate,
And drive away all sorrow,
Although to-night may be too late,

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Aug 15, 1816



Observe, fair Celia, all in all,
Mild, beautiful and young;
‘Tis true; but then her mouth’s so small,
It cannot hold her tongue!

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jan 23, 1817



“Yes, my son.”
“In olden times a woman who was a common scold was punished, wasn’t she?”
“Yes, my son. So was the man she married.” — Yonkers Statesman.

New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) Nov 11, 1912


Another poem, which I found in the Tales of pioneer Pittsburgh, published by the William Penn Association, c1937.

Kesouse! the stool went down again,
Into the slush-ice splashing;
But still the bag, with never a gag,
Kept up her vile tongue-lashing!

Kesouse! a third time for the charm,
Down to the very bottom;
But worse and worse the drab to curse
Begain with a “Dod rot ’em!”

Kesouse! Now let the stool stay down,
And save us futher trouble!
But still her tongue assailed the throng
In every rising bubble!

Until the ice of Februer,
Closed firm and fast above her;
And her corse, cut out perforce,
None can but death discover!

When, hark! upon the cooling-board,
The corse begain to cough;
And then her jaw, the first to thaw,
Went on where she’d left off!

The ducking-stool at once condemned,
Was into kindling cut;
And the mouth of the scold of the days of old,
Has never since been shut.

Except beneath the ice of death,
To be opened sometime later;
When the corse on the board again is heard
In her begotten daughter!

But who was the scold? Ah, helpless wight,
No longer worry and bother;
But go to your home and meet your doom —
She was your dear wife’s mother!

“Common Scolds” Have Their Days in Court

March 3, 2009


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.”

Common Scolds and Ducking Stools

March 2, 2009



We learn that the Judge of the Court of Quarter Sessions for this county, on Friday sentenced a woman to be ducked by immersion as a common scold on Wednesday next.

Annexed is the sentence of the Court —

Commonwealth vs. Nancy James.

Indictment for a nuisance — charged with being a common scold.

Oct. 11th, 1824 — Verdict, Guilty.

Oct. 29th, 1824 — The prisoner sentenced to be place in a certain engine of correction called a Cucking or Ducking Stool, on Wednesday next, the third day of November ensuing, between the hours of 10 and 12 o’clock in the morning — and being so placed therein, to be plunged into water — that she pay the costs  of prosecution, and stand committed until this sentence is complied with. Nat. Gaz.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Nov 10, 1824


Ducking stool, a stool or chair in which common scolds were  formerly tied, and plunged into water, as a punishment. The practice of ducking began in the latter part of the 15th century, and prevailed until the early part of the 18th, and occasionally as late as the 19th century. –Blackstone. Chambers.

The picture is also from this website.



The court of quarter sessions for Philadelphia county, lately sentenced Nancy James, convicted of being a common scold to be placed in a certain engine of correction called a Cucking or Ducking stool, on Wednesday the 3d of November ensuing, between the hours of 10 and 12 o’clock in the morning, and being so placed therein, to be plunged into the water” &c — The case has been carried up to the Supreme Court to try the legal validity of the sentence, we presume.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Nov 26, 1824



On Monday last, the judgement of the court of quarter sessions in this city, in the case of Nancy James, who was indicted and sentenced to be ducked as a common scold, was reversed by the Supreme Court, on the ground that no law of Pennsylvania, either statute or common, warranted the sentence of the court below.

Judge DUNCAN considered that this inhuman and barbarous part of the English common law had become obsolete; that, at all events, it had never been brought to this country by our ancestors; that it was incompatible with their humane habits, as well as with the enlightened maxims of civil policy introduced into Pennsylvania by WILLIAM PENN; and that even if the punishment formerly inflicted upon common scolds had ever obtained here, it had, by implication, been repealed by the general spirit of our mild penal code. The decision of the Supreme Court must give universal satisfaction.

Republican Compiler (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania) Jan 12, 1825


A famous scold:

The United States vs. Ann Royal.

Another case came up yesterday before the Circuit Court, which, by the unusual crowd that thronged the Hall, appeared to excite much interest. Mrs. Ann Royal, against whom a bench warrant was issued last week appeared to answer an indictment found against her during the term, by the Grand Jury, for certain alleged improprieties of conduct, denominated in legal phrase ‘common scold’ ‘common slanderer,’ ‘brawler’ ‘common nuisance,’ &c. The defendant’s counsel entered a demurrer to two out of the three counts of indictment, which the counsel for the prosecution agreed to submit to the court without argument. The defendant also asked a continuance of the trial to Friday next, on the ground of the absence of two witnesses material to her defense. The indulgence was granted, on the understanding that if she was convicted, the expense, (growing out of the repeated attendance of many witnesses) would be paid by her. The trial was accordingly postponed to Friday, — Gaz.

On the 18th Mrs. Royal was heard first by her counsel, 2dly by her witnesses, and lastly by her eloquent self. Nevertheless the jury ungallantly found her guilty, and the Bench still more ungallantly ordered her to jail, until she found bail for her appearance to receive judgment, which was arrested by her counsel. “This is a pretty country we live in,” said she, as she heard the mandate for her incarceration.

Ohio Repository, The (Canton, Ohio) Jul 31, 1829


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

To Punish Scolds

March 1, 2009



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