Teaching Module

Age of Consent Laws

"Review of the Age-of-Consent Legislation in Texas"[Magazine Article, 1895]

Annotation

The Arena was an evangelical Christian periodical published in Boston that was known for its advocacy of social reform and women's issues, such as birth control. In 1895, it published a series of articles on age of consent reform edited by Helen Hamilton Gardener. Gardener, an American feminist, was a lecturer and the author of articles and fiction, including two novels written to assist the age of consent campaign.

The publication of "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon" directed the attention of American reformers to the age of consent in their country and they were not pleased with what they found. The age of consent in the U.S., determined by each state, ranged from seven years, in Delaware, to an average of 10 to 12 years, lower than the age the British had recently deemed too low. Efforts to change those laws met significant opposition from male legislators. Accounts of these arguments, made by those opposed to changing existing laws, were featured in Gardener's articles and reports of state campaigns.

This excerpt comes from a report on activities in Texas by the state president of the WCTU as quoted by Gardner. The key points outlined here against raising the age of consent are similar to those found throughout the Anglo-American world, although in Texas, race was particularly prominent. The seduction laws referred to are likely the common law action that allowed a father to recover damages for the loss of his daughter's services if she became pregnant outside marriage.

Source

Stoddard, Helen. "Review of the Age-of-Consent Legislation in Texas." Quoted in Gardener, Helen Hamilton. "A Battle for Sound Morality: Final Paper." The Arena (November 1895): 410. Annotated by Stephen Robertson.

Primary Source Text

The arguments against raising the age higher than thirteen or fourteen were:

  1. 1. Girls often mature physically at twelve or fourteen years of age. Mexican girls were often mothers at twelve; being developed, the girl could consent.

  2. 2. Working girls, especially typewriters, would blackmail their employers, "urged on by designing mothers."

  3. 3. We have a degraded race among us – negro.

  4. 4. It will send youths to the gallows and fill our penitentiaries with immature boys.

  5. 5. Southern chivalry was a sufficient protection to womanhood.

  6. 6. Seduction laws cover the case.

How to Cite This Source

Stephen Robertson, "Age of Consent Laws," in Children and Youth in History, Item #230, http://chnm.gmu.edu/cyh/teaching-modules/230 (accessed December 20, 2014).