Teaching Module

Age of Consent Laws

Petition to Raise the Age of Consent (1887) [Petition]


Petitions played a major role in campaigns to raise the age of consent and they represented a way for women, who did not have the vote, to seek legislative action. This petition, drafted by leaders of the Women's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and social purity reformers in New York City, was circulated through the organization's state and local branches in the U.S. Thousands of forms were submitted to state and federal legislatures; one petition to raise the age of consent in District of Columbia alone contained 200,000 signatures. The WCTU also solicited letters of support to legislators from prominent citizens, organized mass meetings, lectures, and speeches, and sought favorable press coverage. The petition deliberately does not use the term "age of consent" but instead the WCTU used "age of protection," which its members found "less objectionable."

The petitions are notable for several reasons: in addition to sexual violence, it highlights new scenarios as justifications for an increased age of consent; it also draws a link between the age of consent and the age of majority, 20 years of age in this period, when a girl could enter into contracts and control her own property.


Women's Christian Temperance Union. "Petition." Union Signal, January 13,1887, 12. Annotated by Stephen Robertson.

Primary Source Text

To the Senate and House of Representatives

The increasing and alarming frequency of assaults upon women, and the frightful indignities to which even little girls are subject, have become the shame of our boasted civilization.

A study of the Statutes has revealed their utter failure to meet the demands of the newly awakened public sentiment which requires better legal protection for womanhood and girlhood.

Therefore we, men and women of ____, State of _____ do most earnestly appeal to you to enact such statutes as shall provide for the adequate punishment of crimes against women and girls. We also urge that the age at which a girl can legally consent to her own ruin be raised to at least eighteen years; and we call attention to the disgraceful fact that protection of the person is not placed by our laws upon so high a plane as protection of the purse.

How to Cite This Source

Stephen Robertson, "Age of Consent Laws," in Children and Youth in History, Item #230, https://cyh.rrchnm.org/items/show/230 (accessed August 10, 2021).