The paddle


Some time back we started an abortive feature on punishment implements and techniques. Abortive in the sense that this is the third article in 18 months on this theme.

So to make amends let’s take a look at the humble paddle.

The paddle has what is known as a parallel evolution. That is, it was almost certainly reinvented by different cultures at different times in history. For instance, the ancient Egyptians have been depicted in some illustrations as using a paddle-like implement for punishment.

The Chinese into modern times used a long-handled paddle for judicial punishment. This was often used in pairs with (invariably) the woman made to lie face down with her buttocks bared while she was two-teamed by men standing over her.

The paddle’s use in the west can probably be dated back to medieval France where prior to the introduction of the martinet, the paddle was the standard implement for domestic punishment of wives, adult daughters and younger children.

The domestic paddle probably evolved from the domestic use of butter paddles during the Middle Ages.

However in early modern times in France the battoir or beetle, which was a long piece of wood on a long handle used for beating laundry, was often employed in impromptu or unofficial punishments among women to settle disputes.

This was later extended during atrocities between the Catholics and Protestants by putting a fleur-de-lis of nails to mark the skin. The paddle with and without the fleur-de-lis was applied to the naked bottoms of alleged ‘loose women’ in the market places. This brief tortuous use must have made an indelible cultural mark as the Catholic French continued to advocate this type of paddle’s use without the fleur-de-lis in convents and the home for wives for some time afterwards.

The French later introduced this implement as an alternative punishment to the whip for women slaves in the New World. Surviving woodcuts show that it its use was not restricted to a caring domestic environment but could often be quite brutal. The reason for the paddle’s use on women was that it left no lasting marks, which was often not the case with the whip.

How the paddle jumped genders and race is probably due to the Ku Klux Klan. Some chapters are alleged to have used the paddle in initiation ceremonies. It is not hard to see how early fraternities took up this practice in the American Deep South.

Not to be out done, the first sororities soon followed, with young ladies eager to prove that they were the equals of men. It had often been said that sorority hazing is much more fierce than any fraternity.

Indeed following the founding of the Daughters of Rebekah in 1851, sororities, as they came to be known proliferated in the latter half of the 19th century throughout America.

Young women were frequently required to ‘proffer their impudent behinds’ as pledges and for breaches of the honour code and encourage to be ‘strong and true’ and to go out and spread civilisation.

One sorority girl wrote of her college days in 1908:

Oh college days, those salad days, of sisterhood so true.
When if we failed, our tails unveiled, they’d beat us black and blue.

The paddles themselves varied greatly. In Baltimore, they were lady like and the paddles were a nursery type, made of soft plywood and applied to the sister while she was placed across the knee.

In other parts of New England a larger medium paddle was used. This was made of thin light but springy wood and was often called a battledore.

The girl was required to bend (and sometimes bare) to take a non-bruising stinging swat.

Elsewhere, all manner of refinements were employed.

Several shapes where used for the business end, oval, rounded and rectangular being the most common. For the larger paddles, it was deemed important to hit both buttocks simultaneously. Some paddles had holes to reduce the cushioning of the air. In some parts of America extra holes were added on a girl’s birthday, allegedly derived from a sorority hazing practice. There are also some paddles made of stiff rubber or leather. The ones made of leather are usually made of several layers to make them stiff.

These refinements were designed to bruise and punish. They were part of the ‘hot and hard’ tradition. The sexual innuendo could not have been lost on them. In Martin Pyx Sigma Cycle, one of the characters is quoted as saying; “My sister joined that sorority and she couldn’t sit down throughout her first semester.”

The thing was, young college women had no place in society during the 19th century, other than that mapped out for them in the domestic arena. So the ‘blue stockings’ of that age often followed the only career left open to them. Teaching.

The growing frontier swallowed up these paragons of culture, although the prim and proper maidenly spinster in their one-roomed schools on the prairie was often mocked.

How did these young women keep order? Well using the only way they knew, their old sorority paddles, which had been so loving polished by their own tender behinds.

So if you are an American who was paddled at school, now you know you are part of a proud and also sinister tradition.

6 Responses to “The paddle”

  1. 1 scarlet

    You know a scary lot about all this business, DJ. But that was a fascinating history!

  2. 2 Kaki

    Why did the Chinese feel they needed to two time her. And that picture, Yikes! You could fry an egg on her behind.

    I really never gave it much thought, thanks for the history lesson.

  3. 3 allie

    Very interesting!!! I am in America and am well familiar with the school paddle! I heard it many times when I was going to school in the 60’s and 70’s. I felt it once! Many times the paddlings were given out of site of the other students..but close enough for all the other students to the licks (swats).
    Thanks for posting….I would love to see pictures of the various paddles thur the years as they changed.

    • Oh yes the paddle was well used in the 60’s and 7o’s. I did see it used on others as well as hear the echo in the school hallway and paddle sound coming through the Principal’s office. Even though I tried to behave I felt paddle swats a few times after bending over! I too still have a paddle fascination and like paddling pics.

  4. 5 DJ

    Kaki – I glad you find the site educational – there will be a test in the morning.

    Allie – how did you feel about it at the time? Were girls often paddled?


    • 6 allie

      I was only 8 years old….it happend quite frequently the early 60’s. Girls were not paddled as much as the boys…of course! I know of some girls that were paddled at my high school as well..but not nearly as many boys that got it. I was embarassed….after all I was the ‘good little girl’ for the most part….but got a little sassy with the teacher that day… bottom paid the price. I never told my parents and thankfully the teacher didn’t either. It was kind of like that…not every paddling was reported….sort of like…what happened at school..unless a something really big..was handled at school.

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