Miserable Specimen of Degenerated Humanity

This piece from the “Town Topics” column of the June 1, 1898 issue of The Portage La Prairie Weekly Review is pretty shocking to my modern eyes. It isn’t just because of the amount of editorial bias (so tabloidy!) but also its placement, wedged in between a blurb about Dan Godfrey’s band playing in Brandon (a rare musical treat!) and the growth of settlement north of the railroad line.

A wifebeater from McGregor, named Jukes, was brought down to the jail here on Tuesday morning to be put in 30 days. This miserable specimen of degenerated humanity is getting off very lightly, thanks to the magistrate at McGregor. About a year and thirty lashes might have some impression on him.

In 1898 it was still considered acceptable for a man to chastise or discipline his wife, but to beat her was beyond the pale because it conflicted with Victorian sentimentalities about marriage and proper behaviour for a gentleman. Only someone vulgar would beat a woman, and likely the writer of this piece felt themselves to be much higher class than the jailed Jukes. There was also the recent legal precedent that wives deserved the same protection that the law would give anyone outside the family who was attacked.

I can hope that everything worked out for the best with Mrs. Jukes, but for most women it didn’t. Often men who were taken to court for wife beating blamed their wife for getting the law involved, and would beat her again. If he were the sole earner in the family, she would go without while he was incarcerated. In that regard, things aren’t that different today.

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