del Mar, David Peterson 1957-

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del MAR, David Peterson 1957-


Born 1957. Education: University of Oregon, B.A., M.A., and Ph.D. (history).


Office—University of Northern British Columbia, 3333 University Way, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada V2N 4Z9. E-mail—[email protected].


University of Northern British Columbia, Prince George, British Columbia, Canada, professor of history. Has taught at several colleges and universities, including Portland State University, Portland, OR. Worked as a counselor, writer, curator, and historical interpreter.


What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, Harvard University Press (Cambridge, MA), 1996.

Beaten Down: A History of Interpersonal Violence in the West, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 2002.

Oregon's Promise: An Interpretive History, Oregon State University Press (Corvallis, OR), 2003.


In his research for What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, historian David Peterson del Mar examined records for some 3,500 divorce cases filed in Oregon from pioneer days to the present. Del Mar also used a number of less formal sources, including popular local literature from each of the five historic eras into which his book is divided.

"This book is not bedtime reading," warned Susan Sessions Rugh in Journal of Family History. She went on to note that "its every page presents horrible stories that would make the reader flinch." As Rugh noted, in the book—a revision of del Mar's doctoral dissertation—he maintains that two broad cultural trends influenced the character and prevalence of wife-beating from the mid-nineteenth century to the present. On the one hand, there was a growth in self-restraint, spurred in part by the rise of feminine influence in public affairs during the latter part of the nineteenth century. This was countered, in the period from the end of World War I to the end of World War II, by the growth of a consumption and self-fulfillment ethic. Rugh further elucidated del Mar's thesis thus: "A corollary argument is that as wife beating declined, so did wives' resistance. In the twentieth century, women's resistance increased along with the incidence of abuse."

In the first two chapters, del Mar covers the settlement of the state and the end of the nineteenth century, respectively. A section of the book noted by several reviewers as its most intriguing was in the third chapter, where del Mar discusses the Whipping Post Law passed by the state legislature in 1905. The law, which remained in effect for six years before it was repealed, would have subjected wife-beaters to public beatings, but as del Mar argues, it was not a serious attempt to deal with the real issue—a fact reflected by the lack of support for it by women's reform groups. Rather, when it was applied at all, it was primarily used to punish emigrants from southern Europe, where wife-beating was more prevalent than among persons born in the United States.

The fourth chapter examines the rise of the culture of consumption, which del Mar places not in the period after World War II (as is the more traditional opinion), but rather in the era that encompassed not only the Roaring Twenties but also the Great Depression and the privations of the war itself. In the final chapter, del Mar examines the growth of "self-realization" as a cultural theme—another trend that, in his view, helped influence a rise in spousal abuse. According to Rugh, "Each chapter follows a template: the historical setting in Oregon, a survey of gender ideologies based on secondary literature, men's goals in carrying out the abuse, then women's resistance."

According to Margaret M. R. Kellow in the Canadian Journal of History, del Mar's "subtle and nuanced exploration resists reductionist arguments and historicizes wife-beating, tracking change over time with exhaustive research and a perceptive eye for the impact of cultural transformations." She went on to note that "One of the strengths of Peterson del Mar's study is his portrayal of his female subjects not merely as victims, but as actors, particularly as they explain their choices and actions to the courts."

According to Deborah L. Kitchen in the Journal of American Culture, What Trouble I Have Seen "weaves together an extraordinary mix of contradictory threads in the histories of violence, westward expansion, race, economics, gender roles, work, attitudes about marriage and women, and changes in the economy to explain historical changes in violence against wives.…Itis solid scholarship." "This is a fascinating book," wrote Peter N. Stearns in the American Historical Review, "with a bold and clear argument and a host of insights into family life and standards." "Well-written and thoroughly researched," according to Sylvia D. Hoffert in History: Review of New Books, "this book will be of interest to both scholars and the general reader."



American Historical Review, October 1997, Peter N. Stearns, review of What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, pp. 1236-1237.

Canadian Journal of History, August, 1997, Margaret M. R. Kellow, review of What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, p. 289.

History: Review of New Books, summer, 1997, Sylvia D. Hoffert, review of What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, p. 151.

Journal of American Culture, spring, 1998, Deborah L. Kitchen, review of What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, pp. 85-86.

Journal of Family History, July, 1997, Susan Sessions Rugh, review of What Trouble I Have Seen: A History of Violence against Wives, p. 354.