The Henpecked Club

The following is an expanded version of an earlier 2014 article. – PW

Many a good man of the Henpecked Club has to be on his good behaviour in order to keep on anything like peaceable footing with his better half – (1860)1

The Henpecked Club is a very real organization, global in scope, that has been in continuous operation for at least the last 200 years. It served the needs of married men who faced domestic abuse from wives, and served young bachelors who might later have to deal with the same issues when they married.

Essentially a project for creating ‘Good Men,’ the Henpecked Club consisted of an international network of meeting-places where men came for support, especially if enduring emotional and physical abuse from wives. In this aspect the club is similar to Al-Anon, the modern support-movement for spouses of alcoholics. The clubs actively encouraged husbands to tolerate wives’ abuse, with the strategy of placating them with any means necessary to moderate abusive behaviours.

The key word there is placate, which the men did in spades.

Henpecked-gClub members, for instance, were expected to take their wives breakfast in bed daily and to do most of the household chores even after a hard day’s work, with the hope that this would place wives in a more amiable frame of mind or – perhaps more accurately – in a less abusive mood. The following are instructions to all members of the club:

  1. That every member of this society shall kindle the fire, set the kettle over, and have the water boiling before he awakes his wife in the morning.
  2. That every member shall take his wife her clothes to bed, after having aired and made them warm and comfortable, or be fined twopence for each offence.
  3. That he shall state to his wife the work he has done, and ask if there is anything more she wishes him to perform before he goes to his work in the morning.
  4. That if any member or members should come home to his dinner, and find his wife gossiping and the dinner not ready, he shall not complain; but cook for himself and family, and something for his wife that will make her comfortable when she does come home, or forfeit threepence.
  5. That if any member or members after their day’s labour come home and find that his wife has not washed the pots, or any other thing he thinks should have been done, he must do the same himself, and not find fault; he must likewise mend the fire, warm the water, sweep the house, mop and scrub the floor, and them make the bed or beds to her satisfaction, or forfeit fourpence.
  6. That when any member shall have finished his week’s work, he shall return home with his wages and give the same to his wife.
  7. That when any member has given the wages to his wife, he shall ask her what she wishes him to do the next, if she wishes him to go to the shop he must go, but if she wish to go herself he must stay at home to clean the house and furniture, and set things in order, that she may be satisfied when she returns, or forfeit sixpence.
  8. That every Sunday morning, each member shall rise at six o’clock, kindle the fire, clean and dress the children (if any) and get them ready for school, before his beloved wife shall be disturbed; but if she call for a pipe of tobacco, a pinch of snuff, or a glass of some nourishing cordial, he shall serve her that instant, or forfeit sixpence.
  9. That peradventure a member’s wife may wish to have some splendid clothing such as a silk velvet bonnet, a fine cap with artificials, a new gown, crinoline, boots, sandals, silk stockings, or any other article of fashionable dress, her husband shall provide for such things out of his over-time money, or forfeit one shilling and eightpence.
  10. That when a member’s wife is sick or in labour, he shall run for the doctor as fast as he can, whether it be night or day, frost or snow, hail or rain, or forfeit two shillings.
  11. That any member refusing to clean the child when it has shitten or bawed (as the term may be), he shall forfeit sixpence.
  12. That every member shall wash the child’s shitten hippins [diapers], when his wife order him or forfeit fourpence.
  13. That every Monday night, each member shall clean his wife and children’s shoes and clogs.
  14. That every Tuesday night each member shall look up the clothes for washing.
  15. That every Wednesday night each member shall look the buttery over, and see whether there be a sufficient quantity of tea, coffee, sugar, butter, bread, cheese, meal, flour, beef or mutton, and if found wanting, he shall provide the same without grumbling.
  16. That every Thursday night, each member shall provide for his loving wife such things as may improve her private happiness, such as cordials or spirits, according to circumstances.
  17. That every Friday night, each member shall look up the stockings, shirts, &c., and such as want mending he shall mend them.
  18. That every member shall pay the strictest observance to the five last-named rules or forfeit threepence for every neglect on conviction before the committee.2

Such instructions, which were typical of most of the Henpecked Clubs, were sometimes couched in self-mocking humor by the members suffering abuse by wives, and this has led to the erroneous assumption that the clubs were merely comedy. But that assumption is incorrect – and perhaps a little driven by denial of women’s violence – for the issue of domestic abuse was a serious concern for the clubs, as were strategies for dealing with same.

Henpecked-cartoon-Yorkshire-Evening-Post-Monday-25-March-1940Men were also advised to absorb any violence or abuse without complaint, stoically tolerating it so as not to provoke or further upset the perpetrator. This, explained club policy, was how one become a ‘good man.’ If the man’s wife continued her abuse after these conciliatory gestures, Club officials would ask the man what he may have unwittingly done to provoke her, followed by “How might you better serve her so she doesn’t become upset again?” The answer to that question was typically for the husband to do more housework, but there was also a novel intervention of ‘rocking a wife to sleep,’ of which I will say more shortly.

Henpecked clubs existed in their hundreds from the 1700s through to contemporary times, and in places as diverse as England, Austria, USA, Germany, France, Australia, Yugoslavia, China, and Japan.

Why haven’t we heard of these clubs – many containing several hundred members struggling to find ways to deal with difficult marriages – in an age when we are so hyper-focused on gender relations? Not even a peep from historians, despite the availability of material about Henpecked Clubs. Why?

Because it doesn’t chime with the image of a ‘dominant patriarchal husband’ proffered in modern interpretations of history.

So in a gesture of redressing history, here is small part of an 1810 book entitled, Some Account of that Ancient and Honourable Society, Vulgarly Denominated The Henpecked Club – showing that the project of creating ‘good men’ has been going on for at least 200 years, and probably more:

“[Husbands] submit to the pleasing bondage of their wives, in as great numbers, and with as much good will, as in any enlightened period of ancient or modern times.

Henpecked-club-title-page“Henpeckicism, which has been graced by ranking as its Members the greater part of the most celebrated men who have appeared since the creation to the present day, whether legislators, philosophers, conquerors, poets or divines, requires no other argument to vindicate and establish its right to the most extensive influence and operation, than the language of every lover, who readily acknowledges himself to be, and swears to continue, the slave of his mistress, before marriage; ergo, he who denies her supremacy, when she becomes his wife, is guilty of the most criminal and unnatural rebellion against womanly authority that God himself have set over him. If other arguments were wanted, however, many might be adduced to prove that the superiority of the female is an ordination of Nature. For example, the noblest or fiercest dog will tamely submit to the snarling and snapping of the most pitiful bitch of the species.”

“For in Henpeckicism there is no distinction: the peerless woman lords it over her vassal even as the peasant: All are equally comprised in the description so happily given by the poet:

“The crouching vassal of the tyrant wife,
“Who has no sixpence but in her possession,
“Who has no will but in her high permission,
“Who must to her his dear friends secrets tell,
“Who dreads a curtain lecture worse than hell”

“The rules observed by the Members of those Meetings were every way adapted to preserve the existence of the institution. Such Members as had the honour of receiving a black eye from their spouses, were entitled to an allowance of 10s. 6d. per week, for so long as the glorious colouring remained: The allowance for two black eyes was £1 1s 0d. In all cases, proof was required that the contusion was received according to the true spirit of genuine Henpeckicism, that is, without resistance or murmuring, according to the example of that inestimable deceased Member, Socrates, who, together with his Lady, is alluded to by the poet in the following lines:

“How oft she scolded in a day he knew,
“How many pisspots at the sage she threw,
“Who took it patiently, and wip’d his head-
Rain follows thunder – that was all he said.”

Such married men as had not the honour to appertain to the Society, were earnestly requested to attend these Meetings, not as Members, but as visitors, in order that they might be induced to unite themselves with it, by witnessing the perfect happiness which it was calculated to confer. For what happiness can be greater than that of belonging to a spouse who takes upon herself the weighty care of regulating not only her own conduct, but that of her husband and the rest of her family; to a spouse who takes the trouble of receiving and paying all money; to a spouse who kindly undertakes the task of judging for her husband (in every occurence) of what is proper for him to do; of what time he should spend in public houses; of how much money he must expend; of what secrets ought to be retained in his or rather her possession, and of what ought to be divulged to the world? In short, she who takes upon herself all anxiety, all trouble, and leaves to her darling husband nothing to do but the delightful task of executing her commands; well remembering that:

“His proper body is not his, but mine,
“For so said Paul, and Paul’s a sound divine.”

The design and ostensible object of the Institution having always been to preserve, and even, if possible, to extend the just and laudable dominion of the fair sex, the several meetings thought it proper, also, to request the attendance of bachelors, not merely with a view that they might be benefited by witnessing such perfect examples of submission, but that those bachelors who had not yet turned their thoughts toward matrimony, or who might have overlooked so great an inducement to enter into the married state as the existence of out Institution, might be induced, as early as possible, to place themselves on a level, in this respect, with most of the greatest men in the world.

“The most common methods by which females attempt the full exercise of that unlimited power which of right belongs to them, is, at a very early period after marriage, to become extremely noisy and abusive, and to make a point of dealing out blame very liberally to their husbands for every action which they commit, whether they are really of the opinion that their conduct has been reprehensible or not. This method is at some times attended by blows. Though a vigorous and persevering course of this treatment may frequently be successful, yet there is considerable danger of resistance from those brutal fellows injudiciously termed men of spirit, a resistance which may be attended with consequences extremely injurious to female countenance. I would strenuously recommend this method be pursued by women, however, with all those effeminate characters who are more afraid of sustaining a drubbing, than eager to vindicate their title to manhood, as would especially advise it to be practiced on the whole tribe of fops or puppies, creatures possessed of no better proofs that they are privileged to rank as men, than that they have two legs and wear breeches.

“Some women pursue a course quite the opposite of this, and with greater success. They at one time load their husbands with caresses, magnify their own affection, and seem to have no other avocation worth their attention but that of convincing them that the sole study of their lives will be to invent fresh blandishments, and to render them in all respects completely happy. At other times, however, they affect a sulkiness of behaviour: a sudden and sullen gloom succeeds their former cheerfulness; they sigh frequently, and burst into floods of tears; nay, they are even seized with swoonings and hysterics.

The wretched husband of such a wife, alarmed at these surprising symptoms, anxiously enquires the cause. She affects to evade the question–he becomes more importunate–she persists in declining to assign a reason–his importunities are redoubled–till he is at last informed, with gentle reproaches and a burst of grief, that he himself is breaking her heart; that the reward of all her love is his neglect, &c. &c. Astonished at a charge which he is wholly unconscious of having merited, he at first endeavours to ridicule what he terms her childish uneasiness. She affects, however, still to doubt–he makes solemn protestations of his innocence; and they are reconciled. In a few days, however, the same farce is played out again, and again, and again, till the unhappy man is at length almost convinced, contrary to the evidence of his own senses, that his conduct has been criminal. Nay, to pacify his afflicted partner, he is even brought to confess his imaginary faults, and to promise amendment in the future. For fear of unintentionally giving offence, he learns to keep a strict watch over his own actions, becomes afraid to take any notice of those of his wife, and is, for the same reason, cautious of contradicting her, lest his cruelty should cause her to swoon; and, in short, becomes a Member of the Henpecked Society.

“Though the great object of our Society is to extend the domination of the female sex, it is far from being its intention to obtain that end by such reprehensible or unhappy means. The only worthy Members of the Society are those who have become so, as much by conviction of its utility, as by entertaining a due sense of the superiority of their wives. All such Members, however, have been treated in a manner very different from the preceding. They have (and let every wife endeavour to follow the same plan) been first brought to acknowledge that their wives, by their care and economy, were better adapted than Themselves to manage their concerns; have been satisfied, by their attentive behaviour, that they were well qualified to govern their families; and have been convinced, by their mildness and moderation, that the authority with which they were invested would never be abused. In such a family, resistance will never be attempted. Commands from the one party will be met by prompt obedience from the other. Perpetual harmony will be established; and correction, when necessary, will be submitted to, according to the fundamental rule of the Society, without murmuring and without resistance.”3

The Good Man’s Wife Pacifier

Henpeck'd Club's Peace Box - Patent Cure for a Cross Wife

Henpeck’d Club’s Peace Box – Patent Cure for a Cross Wife

The good men of the Henpecked Club were responsible for an interesting innovation: an adult-sized rocking cradle, which was used for soothing nagging wives instead of babies. If you look closely you can see curved feet that allowed the cradle to be gently rocked from side-to-side by the dutiful husband.

The ‘Peace Box’ was invented by a club member named Harry Tap in 1862, and several were manufactured for hire by Henpecked Club members suffering under tempestuous behaviour from wives. If a wife was abusing her husband too much, the husband would entreat his wife to recline in the box, which could be rocked like a child’s cot in order to send the wife to sleep. While she was sleeping the husband would perform all the household chores then awaken his wife who would hopefully have calmed down.

With those juicy historical morsels now in the open, we seem to have come full circle, back to the future. Here we remain, with hat in hand, beseeching Dear Woman for forgiveness for having displeased her, hoping that she will notice how hard we are trying to be good men.

You may at this point be feeling nauseous in the knowledge that men have been kowtowing to such abuse for hundreds if not thousands of years, and yet we’re still being asked to to Take It Like A Man™, Man Up™, and be Good Men™. If you are feeling that way you are not alone, and with the growing army of men and women in the MHRM you can help bring an end to such appalling gynocentric customs.

SOURCES:

[1] Huddersfield Chronicle – Saturday 11 August 1860
[2] This list of duties was in use at the Rochdale chapter of the club and is a condensed version of an earlier official document circulated among clubs: New Rules and Orders Reformation Act (1840)
[3] Some Account of that Ancient and Honourable Society, Vulgarly Denominated The Henpecked Club (1810)

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