Age of Consent
January 31, 1895 — Judiciary Committee, Texas State Senate, On a bill to raise the age of sexual consent, Austin TX
I am not here merely as an individual; I am not self-commissioned. I am here to present the prayers of the organized mother-love of the state of Texas as expressed in the Woman’s Christian Temperance Union, and the Rescue Society. And when I think of the womanliness, the prayerful earnestness of the patient, saintly women who have sent me and who are at this hour praying for the success of this bill and for me, I feel brave to address you even upon so delicate a subject.
During the years from 14 to 18, the years we are pleading for protection, and this honorable committee think it should be withdrawn, during these four years, the child is maturing into a woman. The emotional nature is developing more rapidly than the reasoning powers; the judgment is not sufficiently mature to decide upon any matter of import.
The State has recognized this, and has thrown safeguards about the girl. She may not dispose of a dollar’s worth of property; she may make no contracts; she may not of her free will contract honorable marriage; should she do so before she is 18, it may be annulled by her parents or guardian; but she may dispose of her most precious possession, her honor, without which property avails nothing, honorable marriage out of the question.
Is such a law reasonable? Is it consistent? Is it just?
Your judgment, your reason, your father’s hearts can make but one answer. It is not just, consistent or reasonable.
What does a girl of 12 or 16 know? Accustomed to look up to her elders and obey their requests and not realizing the import of this request; for being innocent she has no experience to assist her judgment, she acquiesces, which acquiescence frees the man, leaving him guiltless of any crime.
“Such legislation is directly in the interests of vice; the line is drawn just where those who are interested in vice would have it. It is certainly as illogical as cruel, that at an age when a girl’s consent is not held sufficient for legal marriage, it should be held sufficient to justify her destruction. A man may not legally marry the minor daughter of another without his consent, but he is legally free to seduce her if he can.” — Dr. Blackwell
I am told that during the Dallas Exposition last fall a side-show in the so called “Midway Plaisance” advertised for twenty-five white girls twelve years of age to assist in the dances.
No doubt they entrapped the girls, but think you they would have gotten them had they advertised for girls 18 years of age?
I believe we are too near the twentieth century to talk of the necessity of vice. If our Creator had made man so that the wreck and ruin of one girl was necessary, then would our God be a demon. No; “in the beginning it was not so” nor would it seem to be so now, if the law protected the sanctity of the person of woman, and if vileness in men was punished as the same act in woman is punished. As laws are now, it is as easy as possible for man to be bad, and as hard as possible for him to live right. And yet we mothers are striving to hold up a life standard of gracious rectitude to our boys as well as to our girls.
I have heard the objection that the penalty is too great, if the age is raised even above twelve years. The penalty now is death in extreme cases, and a term in the penitentiary in the less brutal. These penalties are not too severe. Long years of disgrace and shame are insufficient to atone for the crime in the girl, and she is almost always the less guilty party. Tricks, frauds, deceptions and nameless schemes are resorted to by the seducer to accomplish his designs. We who work among the fallen, know how satanic are the means used, and you who are lawyers know this to be the case too, and you can but know also that whatever hard sentence the seducer gets he but gets his just deserts.
The “Proviso” attached to the bill as reported to the Senate should not remain. It is nothing but a loophole, through which libertines may escape their just punishment. The proviso utterly kills the whole force of the law. You will agree with me that there is nothing quite so easy to do as to ruin a girl’s reputation, especially if she is one against whom a man has sinned. The class of men who seek the ruin of girls, are morally bad men who, to escape a term in the penitentiary, would resort to any sort of defamation.
The penalty should remain clear and definite so that the law may have strength. That men of 20 or 30 or 50 years of age should need a proviso to shield them from the wiles of little girls of twelve or fourteen years of age, is greatly lowering to our present ideals of masculine strength.
If this law is of any use at all, it is to advance a sturdy morality among our people. Society heaps shame upon the miserable victim, and a lifetime is not long enough for her to outlive it; it is but just that the man should have a punishment meted out to him severe enough to make him feel utterly disgraced.
I have heard a whisper — it was hardly meant for my ears — that this bill would protect the colored girl. As I pass along the streets of our cities and see the mulatto children, I think the colored girl needs protection, and more than that, the Anglo-Saxon man needs the restraints of this law to help him realize the dignity and sacred heritage he possesses by being born into the dominant race of the world. Let the law protect the purity of this race stream.
The only argument that I have heard against the original bill (raising the age to eighteen) is that of blackmail, especially by debased colored girls against white men.
That is only a fear and a very weak fear at that. With judge and jury both white, with the subtle power which every person of a pure life possesses, no conviction could be made against an innocent man.
I have been told, “But you women don’t understand this.”
You are mistaken, gentlemen, we do understand this. We have been studying this question in the most careful manner by practical personal efforts to rescue our sisters who have been dragged down to a living death, suffering alone for the sin of two.
You would not think of binding a boy of 12 or 16 to any contract he might make no matter how willingly he gave his consent, if by that contract he was deprived of that which makes life happy or a success.
How much more ought the girl be shielded, since she is considered the weaker vessel, yet you make her the only responsible party.
I wish I had words to picture to you the enormity of this law, the measureless injustice of it as it appears to the women of Texas.
We feel that Herod’s slaughter of the innocents was merciful compared to this; do not the heathen better when they throw their girl babies to the alligators?
Not a man would advocate a bill with age lower than 18, if he did not feel absolutely sure that his daughter or sister was absolutely secure.
You are their protection. It is not the purpose of law to protect the already protected. The defenseless, the orphaned, or worse than orphaned, these are the children of the State, and it is surely to the State’s interest that these should grow into virtuous womanhood.
Public sentiment asks this law. There has not been a convention of women for years but has discussed this subject and during the year has passed resolutions of the strongest character to petition this body to “remove the foul blot from the escutcheon of Texas.”
Every woman’s paper in the state, and most others, has contained strongly written articles and protests. A decade ago, not a dozen women in Texas knew that this law had an existence. Today the majority know of it and no woman will forget the day she first heard of it,-the unspeakable indignation she felt; the nights she could not sleep for thinking of the injustice of it-and the letters you are receiving, the petitions you are presenting, are but an occasional appeal coming from an indignant helpless motherhood. we women.
And I know of men too who have been as ignorant as I have received letters from their wives asking information, saying their husband told them, “There couldn’t be such a law, for it wasn’t common sense.
These honest men take it for granted that law is concentrated common sense.
The readiness of our state for this law is further attested by the attitude that every decent paper took during the Pollard-Breckenridge trial, in which this very question constituted the only plea made by the aged man — criminal — the girl was over age, and had consented.
Three states, Alabama, North Carolina and South Carolina, head the black list with the age of consent at ten years; three states, Louisiana, Kentucky and Wisconsin share with Texas the second black place, with the age limit at 12 years. Three Southern States, besides nine others, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, have raised the age to 16, and one, Florida, has had the justice to put it at 17. All these have social conditions similar to Texas or even more complicated. Surely the Lone Star State can take one step further in advance and protect her girlhood until she may consent to a legal marriage, eighteen years.
This is the petition, the prayer of the mothers of Texas.
In our helplessness, we appeal to you who have the power to right this wrong.
Source: Houston Post, February 3, 1895.
Also: To the Noon Rest: The Life, Work and Addresses of Mrs. Helen M. Stoddard, Fanny L. Armstrong (Butler, IN: H.L. Hagley, 1909), pp. 59-64.