Infamous Scribblers

women writers of the long eighteenth century

Domestic Violence in the Past and Present: The Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge

Ashbridge Title

Today marks the first post after a long break. It is also the day before October, which is both National Breast Cancer Awareness Month and National Awareness Against Domestic Violence Month. While breast cancer awareness is an important and ongoing concern, it is also an issue that receives the spotlight far more often than domestic violence. With this reality in mind, I’d like to use this space to highlight one eighteenth century narrative of domestic violence. Elizabeth Ashbridge’s autobiography, Some Accounts of the Fore Part of the Life of Elizabeth Ashbridge, allows for an exploration of domestic abuse in the eighteenth century and how this issue functions on a similar level in our own time.

In many ways, Elizabeth Ashbridge’s life embodies both the growing freedom of movement and options for women in the eighteenth century as well as the restrictions gender continued to place on these women. Born in England, she eloped at the age of fourteen. When her husband died a few months later, her father would not allow her to return home. She moved to Dublin to live with a relative and then became an indentured servant in order to move to the American colonies. While there, she remarried and soon after converted, becoming a Quaker specifically because she enjoyed the freedom of expression allowed women within the Society of Friends.

Her then-husband, who she identified in her work only as Sullivan, became enraged with his wife’s religious conversion. What follows is a narrative of ever-increasing emotional, psychological, and physical abuse at the hands of her husband, which continued until his death. Ashbridge begins a harrowing navigation, trying to balance her spirituality with her husband’s anger and violence, which was itself heightened by her spiritual growth and determination. She recounts, “He finding no hard Usage could alter my resolution, neither threatening to beat me, nor doing it, for he several times struck me with sore Blows, which I Endeavoured to bear with Patience, believing the time would Come when he would see I was in the right (which he Accordingly Did), he once came up to me & took out his pen knife saying ‘if you offer to go to Meeting tomorrow, with this knife I’ll cripple you, for you shall not be a Quaker.’” This is just one, brief example of the abuse Ashbridge endured and recounts.

Here, her suffering is present on the page in a way that exposes historic gender concerns. As his wife, in the eighteenth century, she had no relief from his abuse. Because of legal issues, as well as the dominant social ideas surrounding religion, marriage, and gender, Ashbridge suffered with little recourse beyond her own ability to talk him out of his rages, although the idea and reality that women often lack viable options in such situations is still present today. It also points to the issues of dominance and control that so often mark the reality of domestic abuse in any time period.

Ashbridge’s narrative offers the reader a look into the life experiences of a thoughtful, intelligent, articulate, and highly spiritual woman who happens to be a victim of domestic violence. This violence does not define the entirety of who she is, but her account of the reality of living in such a situation underscores a sad fact that is as true today as it was in the eighteenth century: there are strong women who navigate a life filled with violence, fear, and uncertainty because of domestic abuse.

If you wish to know more about Elizabeth Ashbridge, you can read her narrative in its entirety here:

Early Americas Digital Archive

If you wish to know more about the current reality of domestic violence, please visit:

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence

National Network to End Domestic Violence

Domestic Violence Awareness Project

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This entry was posted on September 30, 2014 by .
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