A history of spanking

Published 3:15 PM ET, Wed December 6, 2017
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Who invented spanking? Christians point to Proverbs 13:24: "Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him." However, Olivier Maurel, a retired French teacher author, said the practice appears to be universal in history: "From Sumer to Egypt to China, from ancient India to pre-Columbian America, from Athens to Rome, children were hit," he wrote. SuperStock/Getty Images
A whipping or "cobbing" was also historically used as a punishment for adults. This etching shows Bishop of London Edmund Bonner punishing a heretic in "Foxe's Book of Martyrs" from 1563. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, Bonner was characterized as a monster who enjoyed burning Protestants at the stake during the reign of the Roman Catholic Queen Mary I, who was known as "Bloody Mary." John Foxe
The tools of spanking are varied. In this vintage image, a man uses a paddle. For adults administering punishment, the use of switches, belt straps, paddles and the like delivered increased punishment while saving their hands from the sting of the swat.
In the slave trade, there was a crueler reason for the use of a paddle or strap. In his book "Flagellation and the Flagellants: A History of the Rod in all Countries from the Earliest Period to the Present Time," the Rev. William Cooper explains that straps were used to keep from scarring slaves and reducing their value: "It is said that with this instrument a slave could be punished to within an inch of his life, and yet come out with no visible injury, and with his skin as smooth as a peeled onion."
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Spanking reaches across many races and cultures. Elizabeth Gershoff, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying corporal punishment for 15 years, said research shows that spanking is more common among African-Americans than among other racial and ethnic groups in the United States, including whites, Latinos and Asian-Americans. Library of Congress/Corbis/Getty Images
An 1879 drawing from "Cole's Funny Picture Book," one of many created by Australian E.W. Cole, billed as the "Cheapest Child's Picture Book ever published." The drawing illustrates "the macabre Snooks' Patent whipping machine for flogging naughty boys in school," says the National Library of Australia. E.W. Cole
Spanking was common in Europe, as well. This illustration from the weekly French youth publication La Jeunesse illustre, published between 1903 and 1935, shows a teacher spanking a student while two others wait with faces to the wall. Today, a growing body of research shows that spanking can lead to aggression and mental illness later in life; one 2009 study showed that "harsh punishment" -- defined as being struck with objects like a belt, paddle or hairbrush at least 12 times a year for a period of three years -- produced less gray matter in the brains of children. Stefano Bianchetti/Corbis Historical/Getty Images
In an apparently staged performance whose date is unknown, a teacher "strikes" a child over her knee while the rest of the class grimaces.

In-school corporal punishment is allowed in 22 states, according to the US Department of Education, with the vast majority occurring in Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia and Tennessee.
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Spanking was a common theme in pop culture. In Mark Twain's classic "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," Aunt Polly, played in the 1938 movie by May Robson, frequently punishes Tom, played by Tommy Kelly, for playing hooky and other mischief. Courtesy Everett Collection
Catholic schools were known for their knuckle-rapping nuns, administering corporal punishment to any and all educational slackers. In this 1990 skit from NBC's "Saturday Night Live," Dana Carvey's Church Lady takes way too much pleasure in punishing "schoolboy" Rob Lowe. Today, most teachers in Catholic schools are not nuns or priests, and most have put the paddle away. NBC/NBCUniversal/Getty Images
Children were not the only victims of corporal punishment. Wives were often whipped by their husbands; the "right" to do so dates all the way to 1800 BC in the Code of Hammurabi. In the 1963 Western comedy "McLintock!" John Wayne's character, George Washington McLintock, gives his wife, Katherine, played by Maureen O'Hara, a public spanking after chasing her through the town.
Over-the-knee spanking is still practiced as a form of wife discipline as part of Christian Domestic Discipline, described as a Christian patriarchy movement.
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