Posted by Elyse Bruce on March 19, 2012
We’ve all heard about henpecked husbands and boyfriends and we’ve heard more than a few jokes about the situation. There’s the joke about men who have to ask their wives and girlfriends permission to ask for permission and there’s the joke about men who have to hold their pay envelopes up to the light to find out if they’ve gotten a raise.
Just yesterday, the London Daily Mail newspaper published a story about famous British explorer, Captain Robert Scott depicting him as a henpecked husband. Entitled, “Adoring Wife’s Last Hen-Pecking Letter To Her ‘Splendid’ Scott of the Antarctic” it read in part:
He was the stiff-upper-lip explorer whose death during a failed Antarctic expedition came to symbolise British stoicism in the face of extreme adversity. But even as he raced in vain to beat a rival to the South Pole, Captain Robert Scott had another role – as a hen-pecked husband.
The Milwaukee Journal ran a two sentence news bite from Los Angeles, California on July 11, 1957 that read as follows:
Municipal Judge Robert Clifton says that henpecked husbands top the list of problem drinkers who pass in an endless parade through Los Angeles courts. Clifton’s court handles an average of 99,000 drunk cases annually.
Twenty years before that on June 7, 1937 there was an article in the local newspaper entitled “Henpecked Men’s Wives Threaten Sit Down Strike” that spoke about events going on in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The first few sentences of the article were:
Members of the doughty clan, the Royal Order of the Doghouse, assembled in hasty consternation today as their new-found independence hung in the balance. The henpecked hubbies face a wifely sit-down strike.
“They’ll get no meals when we strike!” threatened Mrs. Harry Powers, Milwaukee spokesman for a prospective women’s auxiliary. “They’ll do their own cooking then. Those men are getting too much protection from that club of theirs. Too many nights out a week to suit us. If they think they can ‘love, honor’ but not ‘obey’ us they’re due for a shock.”
Yes, this was a real news story and not a joke. In fact, it was reported that the Royal Order of the Doghouse had been formed the previous November when henpecked husbands had banded together in “common misery and defiance of wifely authority.”
When the Philadelphia Recorder published a news story out of Cape May, New Jersey on August 5, 1890 about the Secretary of State in which it was reported:
He cannot retire to a cave and promulgate his theories to rivals who have no personal ends to serve in carrying them out. No, indeed; nor can he afford to give up the chief post in the Cabinet, in order that Reed and McKinley may secure it. He wouldn’t be half so powerful as a political martyr as a henpecked Secretary of State. To what purpose would he have endured so many petty humiliations. He must go on, and he knows it. Let us hear no more, therefore, about the impending crisis at Cape May Point. He has only to wait, as he kept the President waiting while he breakfasted on Saturday morning.
Of course, the word was well-known and on June 20, 1849, the Charleston Mercury was happy to run an advertisement for George Oates with regards to new books available at his store located at 234 King Street in Charleston, South Carolina. One of the new arrivals was a book entitled “Family Failings” by the author of “The Henpecked Husband.”
Along the 19th century, a “hen frigate” was a ship with the captain’s wife on board. Unfortunately, more times than not, the wife would interfere with the duty or regulations and the crew took to referring to captains who couldn’t control their wives as henpecked husbands. In fact, the term henpecked is found in the “1811 Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue” by Francis Grose as well as the “1828 Webster’s American Dictionary” by Noah Webster.
It was also found in “Don Juan” by Lord Byron (January 22, 1788 – April 19, 1824) in Canto I, Stanza 22 where he wrote:
But O ye lords of ladies intellectual
Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?
The Spectator was a daily magazine publication from 1711 to 1712, founded by English politician and writer Joseph Addison (1 May 1672 – 17 June 1719) and Irish politician and writer, Richard Steele (12 March 1672 – 1 September 1729). In the September 12, 1712 edition No. 482, readers were treated to a story entitled “The Fraternity of The Henpecked.”
The earliest use of this expression dates back to English poet and satirist Samuel Butler (14 February 1613 – 25 September 1680) who wrote this prose in 1671:
The henpect man rides behind his wife and lets her wear the spurs and govern the reins. He is a kind of preposterous animal, that being curbed in goes with his tail forwards. He is subordinate and ministerial to his wife, who commands in chief, and he dares do nothing without her order.
And that is an accurate description of a henpecked man in modern times.