Tom Green County

Sheriff's Office, Crisis Intervention Unit

3005 North Chadbourne, San Angelo, Texas

(Next Door to the North Branch Library)

(325) 658-3921

                         

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MARTHA WHITE MCWHIRTER
1827-1904

Martha White McWhirter, founder and leader of the Belton Woman's Commonwealth, was born on May 17, 1827, in Gainesboro, Tennessee, the daughter of a Jackson County planter. In 1845 she married George M. McWhirter, an attorney and farmer. The McWhirters moved to Bell County, Texas, in 1855, and settled first on Salado Creek, near the site of present Armstrong. Nine or ten years later they moved to Belton, where George McWhirter operated a store and had an interest in a flour mill. The McWhirters had twelve children, only six of whom survived. Martha McWhirter had joined the Methodist Church in Tennessee at the age of sixteen, and in Belton she and her husband helped establish the interdenominational Union Sunday School, to which they remained loyal even after the community acquired a Methodist congregation in 1870. She also led a women's prayer group that met weekly in the members' homes. In 1866, after the deaths of her brother and two of her children, she began to believe that God was chastising her. After a prayerful night she had a vision that convinced her that she had been "sanctified," or filled with the Holy Spirit. She shared her revelation with the women in her prayer group, and other members began to pray successfully for sanctification. Mrs. McWhirter's deepening commitment to unorthodox religious views eventually caused a serious rift in the community. Many of her growing band of female followers were unhappy in their domestic affairs, and she herself accused her husband of making improper advances toward a servant girl. She claimed to have had a revelation in which the sanctified were instructed to separate themselves from the undevout, and consequently directed her followers to continue to perform their household duties while minimizing social contact with their husbands and abstaining from conjugal relations. Eventually the women began to leave their homes to live and work communally. As the McWhirter house began to fill up with "Sanctified Sisters," George and Martha separated permanently. Without her husband's permission she had a house built for a homeless sister on one of his lots, claiming that the money she had brought to their marriage gave her a moral right to the property. Despite his anger George did not interfere when the women continued to build houses; he defended his estranged wife against critical townspeople and left her his estate when he died in 1887. While still living with her husband Martha McWhirter had avoided asking him for household money by marketing eggs, butter, and baked goods. As the financial planner for the Woman's Commonwealth she directed her followers in a variety of enterprises that made the group financially secure in a relatively short time. The Sanctificationists' economic success helped dissipate much of the town's hostility, and McWhirter became the first woman elected to the city Board of Trade. She contributed to the community fund to help attract a railroad to Belton, and her name appeared on the cornerstone of the Belton opera house. She continued to lead the Woman's Commonwealth even after the members retired from business in 1899 and bought property in Washington, D.C., and Mount Pleasant, Maryland. She died in the Washington area on April 21, 1904.

  

By the 1880's, this self-reliant group of over 50 women owned three farms, a steam laundry, a hotel and several rooming houses. Their beliefs as well as their successes resulted in some irate ex-husbands responding to the shelter with violence.

McWhirter's home is still standing in Belton, Texas with at least one bullet hole in the front door as a reminder of the bygone era.

ref. Article from the Texas Handbook Online

  
fountain.jpg Violent crime occurred only rarely in Colonial America and when it did, the government was only peripherally involved. Prosecution of criminals was a private matter, and the primary concern of the colonial fathers, since they had seen so much criminal injustice in the British system, was that the accused be afforded a fair and unbiased trial. In time, in order to improve law enforcement and to better protect the rights of the accused, police and prosecution functions became public matters - the responsibility of the state.



Americans can be justifiably proud of the rights established for criminal defendants. However, along the way, victims of crime became more and more excluded from the justice system, unless they were needed as witnesses, complainants, or to present evidence in criminal trials. While those who so carefully established rights for defendants probably did not intend such exclusion, little by little, this practice has woven its way into courtrooms throughout the United States. As a result, victims have often been silenced within the criminal justice system.



In response to this alienation from the system, victims have sought greater input and participation into the criminal proceedings, as well as recognition of the harm they have suffered personally.

Impact Statements -- A Victim's Right to Speak...A Nation's Responsibility to Listen

by Ellen K. Alexander and Janice Harris Lord
The above is an excerpt from
http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/ovc/help/is.htm
purprib.gif

 

History - or HERSTORY -

The Battered Women's Movement in Texas

(from TCFV)


1875
Martha McWhirter opens the first shelter of refuge in Belton for battered wives that thrives well into the 1890s. Martha founded the Sanctificationist religious group on the grounds that no woman should be compelled to live with an "unsanctified" or otherwise brutal husband. Women who followed her were attempting to escape from husbands who were batterers and/or alcoholics.


1977
The first battered women's shelter in more than a century opens in Austin followed by a shelter in
Houston.

1978
Six women meet in Austin on April 8, 1978 to form the Texas Council on Family Violence. Its purpose is to represent Texas' six battered women's shelters in their efforts to secure state funding and protective order legislation. Articles of Incorporation were signed and officially certified by the Secretary of State on December 27, 1978.

1979
The Legislature passes the first bill establishing pilot funding for battered women's shelters and providing $200,000 to support programs at six Texas shelters.

1980
More than 25 battered women's shelters are operating throughout the state.

1981
The Legislature creates the Family Violence Program (FVP), allocating $1 million per year for 30 state-contracting shelters and statewide program administration, technical assistance, training, and public education.

1982
The Texas Council on Family Violence opens its first office in Austin, and hosts the first Annual Statewide Family Violence Conference. More than 200 people attend.

1983
The Legislature passes a number of bills and resolutions aimed at expanding family violence programs in Texas and offering greater protections under the law for family violence victims. Funding for the FVP increases to $1.05 million per year, with 32 contracting shelters.

1984
The FVP receives $2 million per year and contracts with 41 shelters.

1985
The Legislature passes the Family Violence Prevention Act and allocates $2.3 million per year for the
FVP.

1986
By increasing the FVP's budget to $2.5 million per year, shelter contracts increase to 46. TCFV receives a prestigious award from the National Improvement of Justice Foundation for "exemplary work in protecting the rights of victims."

1987
The Legislature passes measures clarifying the use of protective orders, affording shelters a role in assisting the children of victims of family violence, and eliminating the spousal exemption from charges of aggravated sexual assault.

1988
The FVP receives $2.6 million per year and contracts with 52 battered women's shelters.

1989
The Legislature passes 10 bills related to family violence and increases the FVP's budget to $5.47 million per year, which includes contracts with 56 shelters. The Legislature also creates the Battering Intervention and Prevention Project (BIPP), allocating $400,000 per year in funding for 15 local programs to work with violent men.

1991
The Legislature nearly doubles the FVP's budget to $9.1 million. Governor Ann Richards signs Senate Concurrent Resolution 26, enabling the governor to grant clemency to women who have been imprisoned for crimes relating to their experiences as battered women. TCFV wins the elite ATOR Legal Improvement Award, administered by the University of Houston Law Center. This award honors a group or individual that has had "the greatest impact in bettering society in the State of Texas by encouraging or causing a change of law or in the administration of justice."

1993
Funding for the FVP remains at $9.1 million per year, despite significant decreases for most other human services programs. Contracts with shelters increase to 58. The Legislature increases the allocation for the BIPP to $500,000 per year.

1994
Sixty shelters contract with the FVP, which receives $9.1 million from the Legislature. Lt. Governor Bob Bullock appoints the Senate Interim Committee on Domestic Violence to study Texas' response to domestic violence and make recommendations to the Legislature. The BIPP contracts with 20 local programs to work with abusive men and hold them accountable for their violent behavior.

1995
During the 74th Legislative Session, TCFV experiences unprecedented success by passing 98% of its legislative agenda. In collaboration with the Community Justice Assistance Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, TCFV monitors the implementation of new program standards and guidelines for state-funded battering intervention and prevention programs.

1996
The FVP receives a record $10.3 million and contracts with 63 shelters. TCFV opens the National Domestic Violence Hotline (800/799-SAFE) on February 21, with a $1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Hotline answers 8,000 calls per month. Through the generosity of donors, TCFV distributes 100 state-of-the-art Polaroid Spectra Law Enforcement Camera Kits to member programs. The sophisticated equipment documents battered women's injuries with photographs that may assist local law enforcement throughout the state in prosecuting family violence perpetrators.

1997
The 75th Texas Legislature increases the FVP budget by $2.3 million per year, bringing the total to $25.2 million for the 1998-99 biennium. The BIPP budget also increases to a record $1.4 million for the biennium. On April 1, 160 Silent Witnesses red, life-size wooden female silhouettes each bearing the name and story of a Texas woman who died as a result of family violence were unveiled during a march to the State Capitol in Austin. Hundreds of advocates from all over Texas and the 160 Silent Witnesses participated in the National March to End the Silence About Domestic Violence in Washington, D.C. on October 18. During a White House ceremony on May 21, Vice President Al Gore unveils new postage stamp booklets imprinted with the National Domestic Violence Hotline's toll-free numbers.

1997
TCFV's National Domestic Violence Hotline (800/799-SAFE) answers its 100,000th call on April 19.

1998
TCFV is one of 10 state coalitions selected to participate in the National Health Initiative on Domestic
Violence. The project is designed to train health care providers to help victims of domestic violence. The Council cosponsors Legal Remedies for Battered Immigrants, with Texas Lawyers Care and Political Asylum Project of Austin. Hundreds of non-immigration attorneys and legal advocates from across the state attend. TCFV sponsors its 17th Annual Statewide Family Violence Conference and 20th Anniversary Celebration in Corpus Christi, attracting more than 600 participants. TCFV's National Domestic Violence Hotline answers its 200,000th call.
 

1999
The 76th Texas Legislature increases the FVP budget by $5 million, bringing the total to $33.7 million for the biennium. The BIPP budget also increases to $1.9 million for the biennium. Other legislative successes include expanded protective orders, enhanced penalties for repeat offenders, required domestic violence training for all judges, prohibition of mediation, and limitation on visitation in cases involving domestic violence.

  
  In recorded history, wife abuse was an acceptable behavior as far back as Roman Times


ENGLISH COMMON LAW gave the husband the legal right to use force against his wife to ensure her obedience. Men were permitted to discipline their wives with a rod or stick, as long as it was no wider than the width of his thumb; hence, the expression: "RULE of THUMB"


In 1864, a North Carolina Court held that even though the husband had choked his wife, "the law permits him to use toward his wife such a degree of force, as necessary, in order to control unruly temper and to make her behave herself.


In 1871, an Alabama court ruled that men no longer had the right to beat their wives.


In 1879, a Texas defendant, "husband", requested a jury charge that "....the husband should be permitted the right to moderate
chastisement upon his wife---in cases of emergency"!
 
 
 
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Last modified: January 13, 2017