The phrase "within age" was interpreted by jurist Sir Edward Coke as meaning the age of marriage, which at the time was 12 years of age.
A 1576 law making it a felony to "unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any woman child under the age of 10 years" was generally interpreted as creating more severe punishments when girls were under 10 years old while retaining the lesser punishment for acts with 10- and 11-year-old girls.
In 1875, England raised the age to 13 years; an act of sexual intercourse with a girl younger than 13 was a felony. S., each state determined its own criminal law and age of consent ranged from 10 to 12 years of age. Although scientists and physicians had established that menstruation and puberty occurred on average around age 14 in Europe at this time, different individuals experienced it at different ages -- a fluid situation at odds with the arbitrary line drawn by whatever age was incorporated into law.
At the end of 19th century, moral reformers drew the age of consent into campaigns against prostitution. Stead's series of articles entitled, "The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon," published in the Pall Mall Gazette in 1885, was the most sensational and influential of these exposés.
While those ages were well beyond the normal age of menstruation, proponents justified them on scientific grounds that psychological maturity came later than physiological maturity.
Narrowly concerned with sexual violence, and with girls, originally, since the 19th century the age of consent has occupied a central place in debates over the nature of childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, and been drawn into campaigns against prostitution and child marriage, struggles to achieve gender and sexual equality, and the response to teenage pregnancy.
This module traces the shifting ways that the law has been defined, debated and deployed worldwide and from the Middle Ages to the present.
Rather than focusing strictly on age, they made judgments about whether the appearance and behavior of a girl fit their notions of a child and a victim.
It was not only that relying solely on age seemed arbitrary to them; at least until the end of the 19th century, age had limited salience in other aspects of daily life.