Violence by Women: A Historical Overview

Violence by women is a discomforting issue, largely ignored by the media, avoided by most academics and guarded by culturally-perpetuated myths. If there is any discussion on the topic at all, it often results in diversions and digressions. Taking advantage of this mindset, the feminist belief system has pushed the problem to a new extreme where even severe acts of violence by women are now actively denied, trivialized and sometimes justified in a variety of morally-reprehensible ways.

In this article, I compile an overview of women’s use of violence from various sources, including the excellent reviews by Dr. Malcolm George and UHoM’s fantastic collections (unknownmisandry.blogspot.com). This article may only serve as a starting point, as it is cobbled together using easily accessible sources. Violence by women being a very broad topic, I will set a few boundaries for the purpose of this article. Firstly, this article is primarily concerned with violence in the domestic environment—the term ‘domestic’ here extending to other members of the household and also to the immediate neighbourhood. Secondly, this article will focus on the periods before and during which the proponents of feminism were most active. And lastly, while there is sufficient information that can be found across cultures, this article will focus on western society.

Violence Against Children

It is frequently claimed that because women are the primary caretakers of children, they are inherently non-violent. Historical evidence not only nullifies this claim but reverses it: women are the predominant perpetrators of violence against children.

Mary Pushman gave her baby pins with its liquid food, stuck pins in its tongue and tortured it to death. Mrs. Valazquez held her 6-year-old daughter against a hot stove, stabbed her with an ice pick, placed her in chains, tied her to a washing machine, held a lighted match to her lips and struck her on the head with a hammer. Mrs. Gertrude Baniszweski subject her teenage girl to long term torture: the girl was burned, beaten, scalded, branded and starved. Her body bore 150 wounds. Amy Imler put her 8-year-old asthmatic daughter through extreme physical violence and starvation. These are only some of the most inhuman cases on record.[1] At the extremes of filicide, there are the serial killing mothers who murdered 2 or more of their own children.[2][3]

Women are known to kill their own children to exact revenge on their spouses. Anna Gades stabbed her 19-month-old son, and told the police that: “There was no reason to kill Hans, but when I could not get a chance to kill my husband, because he watched me so closely, I had to kill his son for revenge. I hated to kill the boy, but I wanted to make his father wretched.” Gladys Dunn murdered her 2-year-old son because she was jealous of the father’s love for the child. Bess Baldwin shot her 5-year-old son “because she was upset at her husband.” More recently, Theresa Riggi stabbed to death each of her three children eight times following a custody battle.[4] The most astonishing aspect of these killings are the women’s self-justifications. Even worse, there are many cases in which mothers coerce or intimidate their own children to commit murder.[5]

Step-children were not spared from such cruelty. Ellen Jones tortured her 2-year-old step-son to death by beating him until he convulsed with spasms. Mrs. Edward Smith tortured her five step-children by pounding their fingers with a hammer and scalding their hands in hot water until the skin peeled off. A step-mother in Germany tortured her 5-year-old step-daughter to death: she beat her mercilessly until she became ill, bound her feet together with a rope and hanged her to a nail on the store. The girl almost unconscious from fear and suffering, was then bound to the bedpost by her step-mother who severely beat her with a club until she died. Jennie Anderson broke bottles on the heads of children and killed a girl by beating her with a nail-studded club. Anne Houde Gagnon beat her 16-year-old step-daughter, burnt her with a red hot poker and forced her to drink poison until she died. The post-mortem examination of the girl’s body revealed 54 wounds. A more recent case is that of Sara Rae Walters, who abused her 3-year-old step-grandson, resulting in over 60 different injuries. Mary Mazalic beat a 10-year-old girl with whips, burnt her with lit cigarettes and starved her until she was eventually rescued. The judge described her actions as “stark proof of how low humans can sink.”[6][7]

In the Victorian era, there existed “baby farms” that took in babies in return for a commercial fee. They were generally staffed by women who provided care for the infants. There are many known cases of these baby farmers disposing of babies in inhuman ways. Babies were burnt alive, drowned, drugged/poisoned, suffocated, strangled and sometimes tortured until death.[8] There are also cases of serial killer girls who murdered young children under their care.[9] Apart from nursemaids and child care providers, there are other cases of women who killed children who were not biologically related to them.[10] There are also cases involving cannibalism.[11] Inhuman women of this strain appear to have survived as “evil step-mothers” in many fairy tales, and in folklore, as female entities who kidnap, murder and eat children.

The extreme cruelty towards domestic servants and slaves by women mistresses is not limited to the time of the Romans and the Greek. Such incidents were commonplace in early modern England. The victims were usually young girls who were employed as maids.[12][13] There are many well-known cases of such incidents, some of which involved physical and sexual torture, often escalating to murder. Elizabeth Branch and her daughter Mary mercilessly tortured and murdered teenage servant girls.[14] Countess Elizabeth Bathory tortured, sexually mutilated and murdered hundreds of young girls. Empress Ta-Ki of China had young, pregnant women torn limb from limb for her amusement. Darya Nikolayevna Saltykova, a Russian noblewoman, tortured, sexually mutilated and killed hundreds of female serfs.[15]

In the 21st century, women continue to be the predominant abusers and killers of children. Following the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) of 1988, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) has been publishing Child Maltreatment reports on a yearly basis. DHHS data collected from the years 1999–2012 show that 70.1% of the children abused by one parent, were abused by their mothers and 69.8% of children killed by one parent, were killed by their mothers. Furthermore, mothers have been the predominant abusers and killers of children throughout this entire period of 14 years.[16] Recent research into female sexual offences against children find that there are as many female paedophiles as males.[17][18][19][20][21][22][23]

Violence Against Men

Women’s violence against their husbands is by no means a recent discovery.

There exist many legal, clerical and other written records of women’s violence against husbands from the 15th–19th centuries in France, England and neighbouring parts of Europe.[24][25][26][27][28] Men who were assaulted by their wives were associated with the term “skimmington,” derived from the skimming ladle used by women for making cheese and depicted as a weapon to assault husbands with. They were paraded facing backwards on a donkey or horse in ‘charivari’ processions. A wide variety of historical artefacts including plates, illustrations and caricatures depicting skimmington scenes can be found in various publications from these periods, some of which originate from the 12th century.[29][30] The Great House of Montacute, built in the late 16th century in Somerset, has an original plaster facade in the Great Hall depicting a woman hitting her husband and then a procession with the husband ‘riding.’[31] The image of the victimized “skimmington” husband survived as dark humour in cartoons, postcards and stand-up comics[32] well after the custom was declared unlawful in the late 19th century.[33]

Incidents of women’s violence against men were commonly featured in 19th–20th century newspapers, legal documents and other publications.[34] Many of these cases involved severe acts of violence from the use of weapons ranging from axes, hammers, hatchets, knives, leashes, razors, shovels, umbrellas and whips, to guns and chemicals such as poison and acid. The victims of vicious acid attacks were not only disfigured horribly, but often sustained permanent damage to other parts of their body.[35] There are extreme cases of women’s violence against men involving torture.[36]

We’ve restricted our inquiry so far to non-lethal incidents. The killing of husbands was commonplace across cultures since the ancient times—so common, in fact, that there existed laws specifically designed to put a stop to these crimes. An example of this is the 2000-year-old Hindoo practice of Sati where, upon the death of the husband, the widow set herself on fire to join him in the afterlife. Feminist lore portrays this as an example of “oppressive male violence” but in reality, Sati was introduced as a last resort by the Brahmins—the pious upper class scholars of India—to combat the wide-spread poisoning of men where even the smallest quarrel between a married couple cost the husband his life.[37]

The use of poison is considered the female signature style of killing. An article from the 19th century offers us the following insight:

“The first dose, administered in wine or tea or some other liquid by the flattering traitress, produced but a scarcely noticeable effect; the husband became a little out of sorts, felt weak and languid, so little indisposed that he would scarce call in a medical man; but if he did, it was only to be told it was a mere nothing, which a draught or two would put to rights. After the second dose of poison, this weakness and languor became more pronounced, and the doctor would begin to think that, after all, the patient required to be put on a course of diet and rest. The beautiful Medea who expressed so ranch anxiety for her husband’s indisposition would scarcely be an object of suspicion, and perhaps would prepare her husband’s food, as prescribed by the doctor, with her own fair hands. In this way the third drop would be administered, and would prostrate even the most vigorous man. The doctor would be completely puzzled to see that the apparently simple ailment did not surrender to his drugs, and while he would be still in the dark as to its nature, other doses would be given, until at length death would claim the victim for his own.

Then, when too late, the dreadful word “poison” would be uttered; upon which, of course, to save her fair fame, the wife would demand a postmortem examination. Result, nothing; except that the woman was able to pose as a slandered innocent, and then it would be remembered that her husband died without either pain, inflammation, fever, or spasms. If, after this, the woman within a year or two formed a new connection, nobody could blame her; for, everything considered, it would be a sore trial for her to continue to bear the name of a man whose relatives had accused her of poisoning him.”[38]

The poisoning of husbands was an active female ‘industry.’ Entire ‘sisterhoods’ specialized in supplying wives with poison to kill their husbands with. The most famous of these is perhaps the ‘Roman Sisterhood of Death’ who operated in the early 1600s. The women who led this twisted club confessed to having supplied poison for over 700 murders. The inventor of the infamous poison, “Aqua Tofana,” pretended that she promoted “domestic harmony” by helping wives dispose of their husbands and thus served a religious purpose.[39][40]

Between 16th–19th century in England, there was a three-fold higher murder rate of husbands by wives.[41][42] Newspapers in the 19th and 20th centuries featured various articles on the killing of husbands.[43][44][45] Besides poisoning, there are many cases of women who used knives, pistols and various blunt objects to strike fatal blows to the head. The pattern of killing reveals women committing fully planned murders whilst men often killed in a drunken rage. At the extremes of mariticide, there are the “black widows”—women who murdered two or more husbands. These serial killers can be found across cultures, throughout history.[46] There are also cases involving cannibalism.[47] Violence by proxy plays a key role in female–male violence, with many cases in which mothers coaxed their own children to do kill their spouses.[48] Throughout human history, women in positions of power disproportionately practised extreme violence against male partners, spouses and lovers.[49]

When the first empirical studies of domestic violence were conducted in the 1970s, they found that domestic violence (DV) was perpetrated at least as much by women.[50][51][52] However, recent reviews of legitimate DV literature conclusively show that DV is perpetrated predominantly by women. While most DV is mutual, about two-thirds of non-mutual violence is perpetrated by women, in both trivial and severe domestic conflicts, against both male and female partners.[53] Further research has revealed that women are disinhibited within their sexual relationships—they actively choose to aggress against their intimate partners.[54][55] While men are far less violent to intimate partners than to other men, women are three-fold more violent to intimate partners than to other women.[56]

When only severe DV is considered, women are overwhelmingly the perpetrators with a three-fold or higher rate of perpetration. Women are far more likely to use weapons to attack their spouses when they are off-guard.[57][58][59][60][61] DV-related deaths also continue to be disproportionately high among men.[62]

Recent research has also challenged the “gendering” of sexual abuse. Data collected from the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 2010–2012 reveal a high prevalence of sexual victimization among men, similar to the what is found among women.[63]

Violence Against Women

The common claim that males are universally more aggressive is not very accurate because men and women aggress in different ways. While male aggression almost always involves direct—often physical—confrontations, female aggression is typically indirect (also called “relational aggression” or “social aggression”) and usually involves attacking the physical appearance of one’s rivals, spreading rumours about her sexual infidelity and exclusionary tactics.[64][65][66][67]

However, this form of aggression can escalate into cruel and violent crimes. This is what is seen in acid attacks, which were common female crimes in the United States and in Europe: acid served as the ultimate weapon to destroy the beauty of one’s sexual rivals.[68] There are also many cases known of women who killed wives in order to marry the husbands.[69] As previously mentioned in the first section of this article, the extreme cruelty towards domestic servants and slaves by women mistresses is a common theme throughout history. Here are some excerpts from an article from the 19th century discussing women’s violence against other women:

“Woman sometimes displays the same amount of ingenuity in tormenting the helpless creatures who may be in her power. I do not know, says Bourgeval, any one more perfidious, immoral or perverse than the New Caledonian woman. In certain portions of Australia women are mortal foes to each other. When the men wish to punish any one of them, they turn her over to her companions, who indict upon her horrible tortures. Sitting on her body, they cut her flesh with sharpened stones.

In Tasmania, as among the ancient Saxons, the unfaithful wife was punished by her companions; she was not killed, but she was tortured for a long time with sharp-pointed stones or knives, in all parts of her body.

Women have often been cruel mistresses to their slaves. A lady in Guiana, being envious of a very handsome mulatto slave, had her branded on the mouth, cheek and forehead. In the case of another slave, who was also very beautiful, she had the tendon of Achilles cut, thus causing her to become a deformed and crippled monster.

It is a notorious fact that Roman and Greek ladies often inflict most terrible punishments on their slaves, and that it was more particularly toward the female slaves, the ancilla, that the cruelty of their mistresses was shown.

The Roman Indies, if, while they were having their hair dressed, they were vexed with their attendants, used to thrust pins into their arms and breasts. Darwin relates that at Rio Janeiro, an old lady possessed a kind of a thumbscrew which she had had made expressly to crush the fingers of her slaves.”

Violence by proxy plays a key role in female–female violence as well. In most cases, their proxies are husbands or other male relatives and members of the community. At other times, they are daughters, other female relatives or acquaintances.[70] By accusing their rivals of violating social conduct, women instigate others to take action. Extreme examples can be found in the witch-hunts of the Middle Ages. Alleged witches were accused mainly by other women—often their sexual rivals.[71][72][73][74][75] The first Englishwoman tried under the Elizabethan statute was Elizabeth Lowys who was accused mainly by women.[76] The last witch to stand trial was Jane Wenham who was accused by another woman and herself implicated three other women.[77][78]

DV research into LGBT populations can also offer us insight into female–female aggression. Women who identify themselves as homosexual constitute around 2% of the population[79] and so early researchers assumed that DV was not a significant problem among them. However, recent research has found that lesbian couples have the highest rates of DV—two-fold to three-fold higher compared to heterosexual couples.[80][81] The incidence of sexual abuse—especially violent sexual assault—is also substantially higher among lesbian couples.[82]

Unfortunately, violence by women against other women is the most overlooked category in research.

Female Serial Killers

Radford University’s Serial Killer Database contains 3873 serial killers, of which 3514 are men and 356 are women. These figures are commonly cited by ideologues to claim that “90% of serial killers are men.” This is a deliberate distortion because female serial killers have yet to be researched systematically by criminologists, and whatever little research exists strongly suggest that female serial killers have been under-counted.

Many reliable sources on female serial killers can be found online. The best source that I’ve come across is the Unknown History of Misandry blog (UHoM). UHoM has listed around 830 female serial killers, the majority of which have yet to appear in serial killer listings. On the broader topic of female violence, UHoM hosts a very impressive and fascinating collection, many of which I have featured here.

Final Thoughts

I will conclude this compilation with some points of interest.

  • While men’s violence is largely restricted to the non-intimate environment, including gang violence and crime, women are the predominant perpetrators of violence in intimate and domestic environments. This points to the importance of examining violence in context.
  • The majority of cases sampled in this compilation involve women of some status or position in society, and regardless of status, in most cases, women’s acts of violence were deliberate and premeditated. It is therefore foolish to claim that these are “powerless” or “oppressed” women striking out.
  • The opposite seems to be the case: “power” exacerbates the problem. Women in positions of power are disproportionately violent in every category, and women’s violence against children can be largely attributed to the fact that they are in a unique position of power with regards to children. In the overwhelming majority of cases, women received very lenient punishments—if they were punished at all. This is a unique position of power under the law.
  • In every category, there is a strong trend which suggests that women’s acts of violence were under-reported. Crimes by married women were particularly under-reported. The problem is compounded by social norms of the time and women’s covert methods of killing.

Historical evidence thoroughly refutes the myth of female non-violence and the many cases featured here put even the most evil men to shame. I hardly need elaborate on the consequences to victims, and to society at large, if the topic of female violence continues to be ignored, denied and trivialized.


I’m looking to update this article sometime later this year with the following:

  • More on female–female aggression
  • Female nurses
  • Atrocities by women in the Nazi
  • Non-violent crimes (from UHoM)
    • Heart-Balm Rackets
    • Military Rackets
    • The Alimony Racket
    • The Badger Game

No ETA.


References

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  2. UHoM. Female Serial Killers: Mothers

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  4. UHoM. Violence by Women: Revenge

  5. UHoM. Violence by Women: Murder Coaching Mothers

  6. UHoM. Violence by Women: Step-Mothers

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6 thoughts on “Violence by Women: A Historical Overview

  1. I think we’re in agreement, mostly, though I personally do not believe that males are *inherently* more violent than females. I do believe that male aggression is socially indoctrinated and yes, of course, almost all male violence is directed at other males.

    Still, if you look at the behaviour of small children, there’s no apparent disparity in aggression; but because boys are formally and socially taught not to hit girls (rather than teaching kids that violence is wrong without sex/gender issues being induced) the girls bully boys, around 20 times as much as the reverse, with impunity carried into adulthood. Not really a surprise that women hit men so much more than the reverse.

    1. Thanks for the links. Yes, I think you raise a very interesting point.

      It seems to me that all this political hysteria of violence is preventing meaningful discussion. To begin with, the context of violent behaviour is rarely examined properly. There is no doubt that men are by far the more violent sex, but the proportion of men engaging in violent crimes constitute only a very small percentage of the population and breaking down violent crimes by severity of violence cuts this down even further. Next, if we look at the directionality of violent crimes, we see that well over 95% of violent acts by men are directed at other men. But the most important question: what drives men’s violence? Poverty? Revenge? Mental illness? Surely, most of this cannot be reduced to random violence. After all, aggression has evolved purposefully.

      If we want to curb violence, we must first understand it without political corruption. At the end of the day, we’re still talking about human beings, right?

      1. I think they key here is in understanding how boys have always been subjugated into being providers and fighters, historically. We’re biologically designed to protect, but this is clearly tweaked and taken advantage of. Though we, in the developed West, do not really need the same level of protection against immediate threat, we still raise boys in much the same way.

        There is no evidence to suggest that males are biologically more violent than females. We simply treat boys far worse; we push them into greater physical competition, coerce them into aggressive sports, beat them, shame them, cut their genitals and make far greater demands of them. It would appear that testosterone is produced by aggression, rather it being the cause of aggression.

        My personal view is that men’s larger physical size is offset by women’s slightly greater aggression in human symbiosis. Studies have shown that domestic violence rates are highest in lesbian relationships and lowest in gay male relationships.

        1. There is no evidence to suggest that males are biologically more violent than females

          Hmm, it’s difficult to dispute that males are by far the more violent sex. The point is that male aggression is intra-sexual—it’s almost always directed at other males.

          It would appear that testosterone is produced by aggression, rather it being the cause of aggression.

          Correct. Testosterone plays a much greater role in behaviour than most people realize—all recent studies point to it being the key social hormone. I’ll be posting about this in the near future.

          Studies have shown that domestic violence rates are highest in lesbian relationships and lowest in gay male relationships.

          If you haven’t found it already, I’ve covered this topic before in an earlier post.

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