Revisiting The Age Of Consent Laws In America, 1800s
A few years back we wrote an article on the age of consent in America, in the 1800s, which can be accessed here: “Age of Consent in European & American History“. Since the publication of the article, we have had some comments left on our website who claim that the reputable scholars quoted are being “dishonest” or even “liars” for stating that the age of consent in the majority of American States was between the ages of 7 to 10, in the 1800s. In the 1800s all the way to 1965 it was not against the US Law if a man had sexual relations with a female who was 7 to 10 years of age, the rape Law only was enforced in the States if the girl was below 10, or as in the case of Delaware it was below 7.
We have since uncovered concrete evidence that such Laws of the age of consent being between 7 and 10 did exist indeed! So the scholars quoted in the previous article are all vindicated from some of the claims hurled at them when we have the New York Times newspaper speaking about this very topic in the year 1895.
The article speaks of the woman’s rights groups and some men who joined them and wanted an end to some of these Laws. Bear in mind those who wanted to change the Laws were the minority in the society, the majority of Politicians and larger proportion of the society were not against the age of consent being 7 to 10.
Furthermore, this Law was also used to marry off girls as young 7 to 10 to men who were a lot older, in the 1800s.
Below is the full transcript from the newspaper, The New York Times, Dated 15th October 1895, Title: “Purity Congress Meets” (Page 16):
PURITY CONGRESS MEETS
A Great Gathering for Moral Work in the City of Baltimore.
AIMS AND OBJECTS OF THE MOVEMENT
Determined to Prevent State Regulation of Vice and to Rescue Fallen Men and Fallen Women.
BALTIMORE, Oct. 14.—With the exception of an international gathering in Chicago while the World’s Fair was in progress, the first National assembly in America for the discussion of purity and moral questions opened here to-night. Aaron Macy Powell, who has been a reformer all his life, called the meeting to order.
The American Purity Alliance in its present form was incorporated under the laws of New-York State a few months ago for the purpose of fighting a bill to regulate vice, which was before the Albany Legislature. Being successful therein, the membership was increased, and now includes persons actively interested in purity questions in many States.
Between 200 and 300 delegates gathered in the Friends’ Meeting House on Park Avenue to-night to take part in the congress, which will continue Tuesday and Wednesday. All social purity associations, White Cross Leagues, Women’s Christian Temperance Unions, Young Men’s Christian Associations and Young Woman’s Christian Associations, Epworth Leagues, Christian Endeavor Societies, and other religious bodies and organisations were represented. The congress includes many of the same women who will attend the National Convention of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, which will begin Friday.
Conspicuous among the early arrivals at to-night’s meeting were the Rev. Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman in the world to be ordained as a minister of the Gospel; Mrs. Charlton Edholm of the Florence Crittenden Homes for the Rescue of Erring Girls; Mrs. Mary Clement Leavitt, around-the-world missionary; Dr. Mary Wood Allen, National Purity Superintendent of Michigan; Mrs. Dora Webb of Ohio, and Mrs. Isabel Wing Lake of Chicago. Miss Frances E. Willard, Mrs. Mary A. Livermore, Mrs. Ormiston Chant, Anthony Comstock, Elbridge T. Gerry, and Theodore Roosevelt are expected to appear to-morrow.
After devotional exercises, the congress was formally opened by President Aaron Macy Powell. During the course of his address Mr. Powell said:
We meet to-day in our first National Purity Congress. Our objects are: The repression of vice, the prevention of its regulation by the State, the better protection of the young, the rescue of the fallen, to extend the White Cross work among men, and to proclaim the law of purity as equally binding upon men and women.
Purity is fundamental in its importance. There can be no true manhood, no true womanhood except as based upon its law. There can be no security for the home, no home life in its best sense except as it is based upon the law of purity. Of the need of such a congress, the prevalence of purity everywhere, so conspicuous in our large centres of population, abundantly testifies.
In the Old World, vice, in many countries, is regulated by the State; it is legalized as a trade; it is a shocking system of practical slavery for dependent women and girls, who are made its victims. It gives rise to an unholy traffic in girlhood; it occasions untold degradation on the part of women; it is a standing menace to the home. The relation between our own country and the Old World, now so intimate, makes it impossible for us in America to be indifferent to the social conditions which obtain in Europe. Law itself is a great educator for good or for ill. When the State assumes to license and legalise vice it educates downward.
In America we do not have nominally State regulation of vice. We do have a good deal of tolerated vice. Here, as in Europe, dependent women and girls are greatly exposed to vicious influences. With starvation wages, the woman’s extremity becomes the vicious man’s opportunity.
The speaker particularized the efforts made in American cities, and notably in Omaha, Cleveland, and St. Louis, where fines were collected from houses of evil repute to be appropriated to the support of schools, as though any use of such a fund, notwithstanding it might prove to be of a repressive and restrictive character, could justify those municipalities in entering into a copartnership with vice and crime. Fortunately for their good names, those efforts have been judicially abandoned. In New-York City, and even in Puritan Massachusetts, similar laws have been attempted within a year or two, but, thanks to the efforts and influence of this society, they have failed to become laws.
He declared, further, that this society had urgent need to pronounce itself on the subject of the so-called AGE OF CONSENT LAWS. Girls are deemed capable of controlling property only at their majority, but States decide not so with their persons. IN FOUR STATES THE AGE OF CONSENT IS FIXED AT THE SHOCKINGLY LOW AGE OF TEN YEARS, in four others at twelve, in three at thirteen, and so on, increasing, except in DELAWARE, WHERE THE ORIGINAL STATUTE PERTAINING TO THE CRIME OF RAPE IS STILL UNREPEALED, FIXING THE AGE AT SEVEN YEARS. These so-called age of consent statutes, which discriminate against girlhood and favor immoral men, are a disgrace to the several States of the Union.
Another work which this congress, it is hoped, will do much to aid, is the greatly needed rescue work among the victims of vice; rescue work among fallen men, as well as fallen women. But even more important is preventive educational purity work among the young, which shall ultimately make rescue work no longer a necessity.”
He praised the White Cross movement, which is especially for men, and whose motto is “Keep Thyself Pure,” and hoped that the outcome of this congress would be an emphasis upon the necessity for one moral standard for both sexes.” (The New York Times, 15/10/1895, “Purity Congress Meets), page 16, online source)
We may add, although Mr. Aaron Macy Powell stated that only 4 states had the age of consent at 10, this is incorrect. He may not have been aware, but well over 30 States had the age of consent at 10. The following States had the age of consent at 10 in the 1800s:
18. New Hampshire
19. New Jersey
20. New York
21. North Carolina
22. North Dakota
26. Rhode Island
27. South Carolina
28. South Dakota
For a list of the age of consent with each State in the 1800s, you can access the following article for the evidence: “Age of Consent in European & American History”.
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Image: Excerpt quote from The New York Times, 15th October 1895 – credit NYT