A BRIEF HISTORY OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
By Tim Lambert
Early Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment is derived from a Latin word meaning body. It meant physical punishment and in the past, it was very common. In the past corporal punishment was by no means limited to children. It was used on adults as well.
Flogging has been a common punishment since ancient times. Jesus was flogged before he was crucified. In England from the Middle Ages, whipping was a common punishment for minor crimes. In the 18th century whipping or flogging was a common punishment in the British army and navy. However, it was abolished in 1881.
Among commonly used forms of corporal punishment was birching. This punishment meant beating a person across the backside with birch twigs. Once a common punishment in schools it could also be imposed by the courts for minor offences. Birching was banned in Britain in 1948.
Meanwhile for thousands of years until the late 20th century teachers beat children. In The Ancient World, the teachers were strict and often beat the pupils. In the Middle Ages discipline was also severe. Boys were beaten with rods or birch twigs. Punishments in Tudor schools were still harsh. The teacher often had a stick with birch twigs attached to it. Boys were hit with the birch twigs on their bare buttocks.
Modern Corporal Punishment
Until the late 20th century teachers were allowed to hit children. In the 19th century hitting boys and girls with a bamboo cane became popular. In the 20th century, the cane was used in both primary and secondary schools.
Meanwhile the ruler was a punishment commonly used in primary schools in the 20th century. The teacher hit the child on the hand with a wooden ruler. The slipper was often used in secondary schools. The slipper is a euphemism. Normally it was a trainer or a plimsoll. Teachers (usually PE teachers) used a trainer to hit children on the backside.
The tawse was a punishment used in Scottish schools. It was a leather strap with two or three tails. It was used in Scotland to hit a child's hand. Meanwhile, in the 20th century, the leather strap was used in some English schools. Children were either hit across the hands or the backside.
Furthermore in the 19th century children were hit at work. In the early 19th century in textile mills, children who were lazy were hit with leather straps. Furthermore, lazy children sometimes had their heads ducked in a container of water.
However in the late 1960s and early 1970s the cane was phased out in most primary schools. In England in 1987 the cane was banned in state-funded secondary schools. It was banned in private schools in 1999.
Throughout history until recently most parents hit their children. However, in the late 20th century and early 21st century, public opinion turned against corporal punishment and in many countries, it has been banned. The first country to ban it completely was Sweden in 1979. Finland and Norway followed in 1983.
In 2019 parents in Jersey were banned from hitting children. The same year Scotland banned smacking children. Corporal punishment will become illegal in Wales in March 2022. It's inevitable that England will eventually follow.
Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children
A brief history of punishments
A brief history of children
A brief history of education
A brief history of English society
A brief history of toys
A brief history of sweets
Last Revised 2020