‘Wayward Girls and Wicked Women’: Two Centuries of ‘Semi-Penal’ Control

A. Barton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

14 Citations (Scopus)


This paper explores the way in which unruly or `deviant' women have historically been subjected to various strategies and mechanisms of control, designed to regulate and reform them back to the acceptable and appropriate standards of femininity from which they were perceived to have strayed. In particular the way in which `semi-penal' institutions were utilised for this purpose is examined. It is argued that `semi-penal' institutions such as refuges, reformatories and homes, occupied a unique position within the social control continuum, somewhere between the formal regulation of the prison and the informal control of the domestic or communal sphere. What made them particularly unique was the way in which they managed to combine both formal and informal methods of control in order to produce feminising regimes, aimed at reforming recalcitrant women into respectable, gendered subjects. In addition, these institutions had the effect of `widening the net' of control for women, establishing an all-encompassing system of surveillance which was at once punitive and reformative. To facilitate this analysis, five groups of women have been identified; prostitutes, criminals, the `wayward', inebriates and the `feeble-minded'. The specific methods utilised to control and reform each of these groups will be discussed along with the themes of continuity which serve to synthesize the history of the treatment of such women.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-171
JournalLiverpool Law Review
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - May 2000


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