This is a long post, but I have several items I can provide that help establish a timeline. Sorry if this looks like a wall of text, but I think it will be useful to the OP. I bolded the references to time periods and years, for people who just want to skim it.
My grandmother told a story at the dinner table some time in the 1980s, when a lot of family was visiting, about her mother back in what was probably the late 1920s or early 1930s. One of their neighbors was regularly beaten by her husband, and she had sought help from her priest (they were Roman Catholic), and I guess the priest talked to the husband (to no avail), but told the woman that under no circumstances could she leave him, because there was no excuse for divorce.
My great-grandmother felt sorry for her, because even though Jewish women weren’t technically allowed to ask for a divorce other than on the grounds on not being satisfied sexually, the fact was that a woman could generally get one any time she wanted, because the man could ask for one on any grounds or no grounds, and would, rather than have it known that his ex-wife had said he couldn’t satisfy her sexually. There was also the possibility of a rabbinical court high-pressuring a husband to grant one, in the case of a woman being beaten.
So, my great-grandmother used to let this women stay with them when her husband was in a particularly foul mood (I have no idea about any children they had).
Well, anyway, the neighbor’s abusive husband died.
And two years later she remarried-- another abuser.
This time, my great-grandmother washed her hands of the woman. The first time she’d been married very young, mostly because her parents wanted it, and she didn’t really have a say in the matter. But the second time, she’d “made her own bed.” (FWIW, my great-grandparents’ marriage was brokered, but by all accounts, it was very successful, and they were happy. They had seven children over 16 years. One of my earliest memories is my great-grandmother sobbing at her husband’s shiva.)
Of course, I’m thinking all kinds of things, like that the neighbor may have been trying to support several children on the kind of job a widow could get during the Depression, and remarried out of desperation a man who might not have abused her before they were married, so she really might not have seen it coming.
My great-grandmother died when I was three & 1/2 (1970), and was always very old in my memory: she wore thick glasses, made me cookies while telling my mother I was too skinny, and complained about her feet a lot; but I could easily see both my grandmother and my mother having exactly the attitude my grandmother described. So it wasn’t hard to imagine my great-grandmother having been pretty tough, and taking the same line once upon a time.
Anyway, when my grandmother told this story, all the women at the table, ranging in age from me as a teen, to about 80, concurred that the woman in the case was “narshe” (foolish), but the Catholic view on making women stay in abusive marriages was even worse. I asked did the church still have that rule? And they all said they didn’t know, but they didn’t think so, because they each knew a divorced Catholic.
Then, and I distinctly remember this (and the information about Catholicism may be incorrect, but it’s not the point-- the point is what people thought about abusive men): one of my mother’s cousins, who is a lawyer, but not a family lawyer, a tax lawyer, said that abusing one’s wife to the extent this man did, clearly would now be a felony, and one’s spouse committing a felony was a way to get an annulment, even back during the Depression, so if this husband had been charged with a felony, the wife could have gotten an annulment, and abused wives could get them now. But that in her grandmother’s (my great-grandmother’s) time, abusing one’s wife was not a felony. It wasn’t even a crime unless the husband caused some really serious injury.
She went on to talk about the fact that the first child abuse case was prosecuted under an animal cruelty law, and apparently there were occasional attempts to charge abusive men under child or animal cruelty laws, on the grounds that if you couldn’t whip a horse until it bled, or break a child’s bone, you shouldn’t be able to do those things to your wife. I did not look any of that up. She was a lawyer in PA, who went to law school in a different state, but I can’t remember which one. Assuming such charges were ever filed, this probably happened either in PA, or wherever she went to law school. I also don’t remember whether she said that filing such charges worked.
All the women agreed that one of the best reasons to stick to dating and marrying Jewish men was the fact that they didn’t beat their wives. <-- This was a very common stereotype, or belief, or whatever in the Jewish community, which is still around, though not as often heard; there may be a kernel of truth in that Jews have somewhat lower rates (in studies I’ve seen, it’s lower than the margin of error) of alcoholism that the general public (alcohol is a big factor in incidents of abuse), albeit, it is not non-existent. There are certainly abusive men who are Jewish, and I am merely repeating what was said that day, not stating something I believe as fact, nor something I am prepared to defend, so please don’t make comments saying that this is untrue. I already know this.
In the mid-1990s, I was part of a discussion of the way people talked about women’s issues, and someone pointed out that for “years” we had been talking about the problem of “battered women.” While it was great that this was “finally” recognized as a social problem, why did we call it that, as though the problem originates with the women? The problem is “men who beat their wives.”
The “very special episodes” of TV shows about “battered women” started to show up in the late 70s. The one I remember seeing first, was an episode of Lou Grant, which IMDb says aired in 1977; Julie Kavner (the voice of Marge Simpson, but at that point, best-known as Valerie Harper’s younger sister on Rhoda) played the abused wife.
I remember being kinda shocked by the episode. Part of the shock, I’ll admit, came from seeing the role played by Julie Kavner, so the producers knew what they were doing, casting a known actress. But the idea of wife abuse was itself shocking to me. I only 10 years old at the time, and Lou Grant was one of my favorite shows-- part of the reason was that it was frequently shocking to me; probably wouldn’t have been had I been older.
Not merely coincidentally, I’m sure, 1977 was the year Francine Hughes killed her husband. She was the first woman to use Battered Women’s Syndrome as a defense to murder, and she was successfully acquitted.
1977, because of the Francine Hughes, was a watershed year in terms of the issue of wife abuse. It led to Battered Women’s Syndrome becoming a standard defense, and also an issue at appeal for a lot of women previously convicted of murdering their husbands.
It led to making domestic violence a felony, because people suddenly realized that domestic violence usually ended in the death of one spouse or the other, one way or another. Making DV a felony was an attempt to set up a chain of events that could prevent a death. Upon first conviction, men were sentenced to anger management, 12-step groups, and community service that somehow was supposed to raise awareness. It began a chain of evidence for women to get restraining orders.
And it led to many communities providing funds for shelters for battered women.
However, there were still changes happening this millennium. My son was born in 2006, and I remember that he was a baby when my county in Indiana passed a statute making charges for DV automatic. A woman could not choose whether or not to file them. They were filed any time police suspected it, or were called out for it. I remember distinctly, because I had my son, as an infant, at a Chanukah party, so that would have been about December 2006, where the topic was being discussed. I was the only person who thought it was anything but absolutely wonderful. I could see women thinking twice about calling the police in the first place if they knew charges would be mandatory, and thought that adult women should not have choices taken away from them. No one agreed with me.
The statute was a response to a perception that the County Prosecutor’s (Indiana’s version of a District Attorney) office and the police, were not taking DV seriously enough, and trying to talk women out of filing charges in many cases. Honestly, I don’t remember what the stats were on this.
So, that’s personally what I know, and what I can provide in terms of a timeline.