Written by: m.wilson
A network of Christian feminist reform groups, advocated for an increase in the age of consent from 12 to 16 (and with the eventual goal of 18), with its “social purity movement,” at the closing of the 19th century (Wikipedia contributors, 2020). Prior to this movement in 1880-U.S., within 37 states, the age of consent was 10 years old, and in Delaware, it was seven years of age.
For centuries throughout much of the western world in countries like England and France, the age of consent was between 10-12 (in 12th century Italy the age of consent was documented at seven years of age), and for a long time before that, consent bore some association with pubescence. However, during this time, consent was legally relevant mostly in terms of violent rape, while marriages between men and those under 10 years of age was common throughout the globe.
Congress Passes the 19th Amendment in 1919
Congress passed the 19th amendment allowing women to vote in 1919. This amendment to the constitution followed after decades of suffragist activity, such as passing individual suffrage acts, mass protests, parades, and more radical tactics such as hunger strikes. However, history recounts that few of the early suffragists would live to enjoy their achievement (ourdocuments.gov, 2020).
As recently as 2001, the age of consent in Hawaii was 14. However, since the 20th century, women have gained more control of their personal and economic lives within society, are less dependent on men for survival, and not as objectified in that regard.
Life Before the Increase
It may be fair to say that women are out there searching for boyfriends and husbands, and at the very least, the idea of ‘competing’ with 12-year-old girls for male attention would probably feel counter-instinctual. Children are not adults, and their worlds consist of things like homework, soccer club, and parental controls for a reason – that they may dwell within environments that facilitate their safe development. There are an infinite amount of reasons why a romantic coupling with an under-aged individual would be physically, emotionally, and intellectually unsuitable for most women.
The “uh oh” Feeling
Changes in societal norms instigated by the feminist movement are occasionally brought to light within the stories of our most celebrated heroes of 19th-century literature, as circumstances, having become taboo in the present, begin to sublimate darker, more ominous inferences. An episode of Timeline titled The Secret World of Lewis Carroll, illustrates the real-life happenings that inspired Carroll’s (Charles Lutwidge Dodgson’s) masterpiece Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland (published 1865). During the episode, various guests are interviewed, including several fans, famous themselves, who marvel at the story of Wonderland; while experts and family descendants recount the profound influence of his 10-year-old muse Alice Liddell. The ensuing presentation of the book as ‘one of the greatest children’s stories ever,’ and the reflections of those who find the story’s magical circumstances so enchanting, create such a hilariously uncanny mood, that it may delay for the viewer an understanding of what the host is actually getting at until the very end.
Edgar Allen Poe’s happy 11-year marriage to his 13-year-old cousin Virginia Clemm, which began in 1835, only ended when Virginia succumbed to tuberculosis in 1847 (Sobel, 2019). Writers have speculated as to whether Virginia is the dark-haired woman who dies in Poe’s stories such as “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven.” Liberty Voice writer Sobel (2019) wonders ‘what he was thinking about exactly when he was writing his poetry.’
What society now refers to as pedophilia had been the status quo for women and girls, and at the point of state intervention, for well over a thousand years. Centuries of consensus intellectual thought, habitual biology, and behavior was forced to evolve in the very moment women earned the right to vote in national elections. Therefore in 1919-20, it became a little less of a man’s world. But what does that mean?