Story from Blushes 1
The following letter, addressed to the department of the Home Office responsible for Approved and Industrial Schools, formed part of a report submitted by the then Chief Inspector of Approved Schools in Warwickshire, which as an insight into the conditions obtaining in such establishments is illuminating; as an exposition of the kind of double-think with which the administrators of approved schools — or one of them at least — approached the matter of corporal punishment, it is, to say the least, revealing. For anyone interested in verifying the authenticity of the document, it may be found under the reference: HO 45/14545 at the Public Record Office.
Kenilworth Training School
Chief Inspector of Reformatories
(C.P. in girls under 16)
Chief Inspector of Reformatories
(C.P. in girls under 16)
In May last there was a serious revolt on the part of the girls at this Reformatory — Dr Norris went there and found the girls entirely out of control, and as the situation looked ugly, he — ordered an obstreperous girl of 15 to be whipped on the posterior (under the skirt).
That action had good effect, and things have since quietened down.
Corporal punishment in the past was not forbidden by the rules in force at the school, though the Managers strangely enough did not appear to know that it was in the power of the Superintendent to inflict it. I think Dr Norris was perfectly right to adopt the course he decided to take.
(Other correspondence in the file reveals that ‘there were a number of other whippings on the day in question.’)
The question now arises whether C.P. on the posterior is to be allowed in this school in the future. In the Model Rules it was decided that the only C.P. in schools should be on the hands — not exceeding three strokes on each hand with a light cane or tawse.
Dr Norris agreed to this rule at the time, though he says he always felt doubtful whether it would be possible to maintain it in dealing with certain classes of girls. The Managers are unanimous in asking permission to keep their existing rule, which leaves the Superintendent the discretion as to the infliction of light and moderate C.P. (whether on the hands or on the posterior).
The two lady inspectors (Dr Whitlock and Miss Wallis) hold that all C.P. of girls on the posterior is objectionable and ought to be unnecessary — and I believe this is the view which would be commonly held, except possibly by some of those who have had the actual management of unruly girls.
There is no doubt that the task of controlling difficult girls such as one finds in our reformatory schools — especially when they become hysterical — is a very difficult one and baffles even the wisest of women. It is possible that women of exceptional type might be able to tackle the problem without resorting to C.P. at all, but women with such qualities are rare and are not often found in our schools. We must do the best we can with the staff we are able to command, and give them such support as they need. The Departmental Committee gave special attention to this question, and came to the conclusion that the discretion to inflict C.P. must be given to the Superintendent, though they are silent whether it should be inflicted on the hands or the posterior. I presume that they intended to leave it to the Superintendent’s discretion also as to method. It must also be remembered that girls over sixteen can be sent to Borstal, and that it is in the case of the younger girls that the difficulty arises.
If this policy is accepted (the appeal of the Managers for retention of the old rule), having regard to recent happenings, I think it would be unwise to refuse the application of the Managers, and if it is made clear that no C.P. on the posterior may be inflicted without the sanction of the Chief Inspector, frequent or improper recourse to this method will be prevented.
It seems to me better to alter the rule rather than, when serious trouble occurs, to contemplate the possibility of the staff or the Inspector authorising punishment contrary to the rule.
I should prefer, however to keep the framework of the new rule rather than to adopt the present rule and I would suggest the following draft. This has the advantage of not mentioning specifically whipping on the posterior, which might give rise to adverse comment by those who are not familiar with the circumstances and leaves the Chief Inspector the responsibility of prescribing the conditions under which it may be administered.
(3) C.P. should be used only as the last resort when all other methods of maintaining discipline have failed and its administration shall be subject to the following conditions.
C.P. shall be only of light and moderate character and shall be inflicted on the hands with a light cane or tawse as prescribed by the Secretary of State — not exceeding three strokes on each hand. If in cases of grave breaches of discipline the anagers think it necessary to adopt any other form of punishment the previous sanction of two chief inspectors must be obtained.
(Various signatures are appended.)
(Various signatures are appended.)
Well, put that in your pipe and smoke it! The background to the events described above will no doubt be interesting, and may add to the reader’s delectation as he conjures up a vision of the way things were, when a girl consigned to such an institution was considered eligible for ‘Whippings’ — and on the ‘posterior’ too — and not much fear of recriminations after the event, if the attitude of the Inspectorate is anything to go by.
The school at Kenilworth was known as the ‘Warwickshire Girls’ Reformatory School’. Its inmates numbered between fifty and sixty, all of them in the charge of a Principal and various mistresses and ‘mistresses in training’. That the Inspector thought little of the quality of these ladies may simply have been the result of his ‘male chauvinism’ in the days when there was no such thing as a ‘liberated’ woman — certainly he had superiors with accounts of other punishments meted out at the same time — if the one caning thus mentioned is then deemed to have been a reasonable response to the unusual situation in the school, then plainly no exception could be taken to other canings administered for the same reasons. Clearly the Chief Inspector is no fool!
Reading between the lines, therefore, and picking up hints from other documents having a bearing on the incident, what we have is a report from the worthy Chief Inspector putting a respectable face on the wholesale bare-bottomed caning of an unspecified number of teenage girls, the whole affair prompted and overseen by Dr Norris, in the performance of his enviable duty.
The girls who were to be caned would presumably have been locked into a suitable room — if they were ‘rioting’ they would have needed to be kept under control — and on the ‘divide and conquer’ principle would have been dealt with one by one. A picture can be imagined of the school’s Principal, accompanied by her mistresses, mounting ‘snatch squad’ raids into the locked room whilst the door is guarded by other mistresses, emerging with their first choice of ‘victim’ — the women had been threatened with physical violence by some of their charges, so they would have been in an unsympathetic frame of mind — and then marching a probably protesting, struggling girl to the separate room where the canings were to take place in the presence of the Inspector.
If the girl’s bottom was to be the chosen location for the application of the cane, she would surely have been bent bottom-up over some suitable piece of furniture. Her dress would have to have been hoisted up while the doctor, no doubt maintaining a severe and professional countenance, looked down upon a pair of knickers covering the wriggling, protesting buttocks that he had ordered to be thrashed.
The girl’s pants would have been yanked down in a trice, galvanising her into more violent protestations, and then the cane would have been produced.
The girls slept in dormitories, a dozen or so to a room. They were provided with a uniform; two dresses, two sets of underclothing, stockings, shoes; and according to their behaviour at the school were allowed to wear belts of varying colours, aspiration to which was controlled by a system of ‘Merit Marks’. A silver belt meant a girl was a proper ‘Goody Two Shoes’; blue or red belts were for those whose conduct had been less exemplary. Marks earned could be taken away for, ‘Disobedience, insolence, stealing, lying, bad language, quarrelling, bad work, bad habits’ — whatever they were — ‘bad conduct generally and careless breaking of crockery’.
An architect’s report, included in the file, describes certain areas of the building as ‘lacking sufficient natural light’ — it was a gloomy place in other words — and it isn’t difficult to imagine the scene into which the visiting inspector walked — a late Victorian building, dimly lit, forbidding — and raucous with the voices of teenaged girls running riot!
Dr Norris, who seems to have been a man to stand no nonsense ‘ordered an obstreperous girl of fifteen to be whipped on the posterior’. This girl (according to other letters in the file, initiated by the same incident) was a ‘well-built girl’ who seemed to be one of the ringleaders. She was to be whipped ‘under the skirt’. Under? Well, without the benefit of its protection, presumably, so that it must have been turned up to afford access to the girl’s ‘posterior’. Other documents state that there were ‘a number of other whippings’. There is no reason to suppose that these other punishments were any less severe or traumatic for the girls involved than was the whipping of the ‘obstreperous’ ringleader, nor indeed that they were not carried out at the same time and in precisely the same way. We may suppose the writer of the letter — the Chief Inspector — to be citing one particular punishment as something of a test case. From the tone of his letter it is plain that the good doctor’s action met with his approval, so he would not have thought it necessary to overburden the consciences of his no hesitation in recommending that the girls there should be kept in their places, and with the utmost firmness.
The building was made up of a central block, with two wings appended on either side, within which the girls and staff were accommodated, the whole surrounded by a high enclosing fence, with access and egress controlled by the porter, who resided in the Porter’s Lodge at the gate.
There is no record of what number of strokes were given, but since three strokes on each hand, making six in all, was the prescribed ‘dose’, in the interests of efficacy, the Doctor would probably have ordered the maximum number to be administered to the bottom presenting itself unwillingly before him. (If he was quelling a riot, he certainly wouldn’t have wanted to seem less than determined.)
Six strokes it is then, applied by the Principal. Embarrassment caused by the girls’ behaviour, which must have diminished her self-importance as well as her standing with her employers, would have prompted the Principal to have laid the cane across those eminently deserving buttocks with all the strength that a vengeful woman could muster. How the girl must have howled and pleaded, how she must have jerked and swerved her hips as the cane bit viciously into her ‘well built’ bum! How the Inspector must have watched the wretched miscreant’s squirmings with all the satisfaction of knowing that he was quite within his rights to have the girl caned, this girl and all the others yet to be brought in, and how he must have enjoyed the whole enervating experience. One after another the girls would have lain on their bellies across the bench and wriggled and blubbered — six strokes each, and what with comings and goings, fetching and sending away, the Inspector might have stood for a whole hour while the procession of young bottoms was caned under his auspices, and under his very nose!
So much then, for the incident itself, but what are we to make of the Chief Inspector’s enthusiasm, in his report, for the exercise of authority that had consequences so painful for the girls? His readiness to support Doctor Norris might, it is true, have been prompted to some extent by loyalty for his staff — ‘In his position, I should have acted in exactly the same way, and felt that I had done no more than discharge my duty in doing so!’ With regard to the opinions of the two women inspectors. Dr Whitlock and Miss Wallis, he is scathing in his suggestion that people who haven’t actually had to deal with ‘unruly girls’ — he is clearly addressing himself to the two ladies — oughtn’t to express their opinions on matters they don’t know anything about. So far as the staff of the school are concerned, he has no regard whatsoever for their ability to manage girls; indeed his opinion of women in general seems to be a very low one.
A clue to his ‘enthusiasm’ is to be found in his suggestion — a suggestion that was, in fact, adopted subsequently — that the Chief Inspector — he himself, in other words — should be left to decide whether or not girls should be caned on their ‘posteriors’ in future. Given that he would want to be seen as being at least as concerned for the smooth running of the schools in his charge as the good Doctor, it seems likely that he would want to take the opportunity, should it present itself, of seeing at first hand the effect which a well-applied cane would have on the bared buttocks of an unruly girl, particularly since the authority to get her knickers down would have come from him, and him alone.
The Chief Inspector’s wily assessment of the likely reaction of the public, were it to become common knowledge that girls were being caned on their bottoms, is interesting, not least because it demonstrates his awareness of the sexual implications of such punishment methods. After all, on what other grounds would the public be expected to object, if not on those of morality? Equally interesting is the complete omission, in his report, of any explanation as to why caning on the buttocks should have been considered in any way a more severe punishment than caning on the hands. Certainly it is seen to be so, both by him and Dr Norris, yet a cane can be applied with as much force to a hand as to a girl’s bottom. Could it be that in the minds of the two inspectors, and implicitly in the minds of their superiors, the caning of girls on their bottoms rather than their hands is indeed a more severe punishment precisely because of the sexual implications? What other explanation could there be? No medical or physiological reasons are advanced, such as the greater resilience of female buttocks to canings as against the capacity of a girl’s hand to withstand punishment, yet the noting that whipping a girl on her bottom is a greater punishment is clearly in the Chief Inspector’s mind, despite the objections of two lady inspectors and the expected opposition of the public to such methods of punishment!
Seen in this light, it would seem that only two explanations of the Chief Inspector’s enthusiasm for bottom caning are logically possible, and bearing in mind the subsequent endorsement of that gentleman’s views by his superiors, one or both of these explanations must hold true also for those who later proved to be in agreement with him, though whether they themselves would have realised the implications so far as their own motives were concerned is doubtful.
The first explanation, bearing in mind that the people concerned would not for one moment have thought of it in such clear cut terms, is that caning on the bottom was seen as a more severe punishment because it required a girl to submit sexually — sexually because of the part of her anatomy involved, and its necessary nakedness — to punishment, the additional severity being in the girl’s own intuitive realisation that she is being forced to be sexually submissive, particularly in the presence of a man. If so, and taking that logic a stage further, a yet more severe punishment would be administered if the girl were made to strip stark naked, irrespective of how hard the cane were applied. Can it be that it was the intention of the Chief Inspector and his superiors to punish girls by forcing them to be sexually submissive? Presumably not, at least on a conscious level. Yet that it must have played some part on an unconscious level seems inescapable when the only other logical alternative is put.
That, whether consciously or not, the Inspectors and their superiors themselves saw bare-bottom caning as being more severe than hand caning because of their own appreciation of its sexual connotations. That, in other words, the Inspectorate thought of it as more severe simply because the idea of taking a girl’s knickers down and whipping her naked buttocks was sexually arousing to them.