Massachusetts has an idiosyncratic age of consent law, which states that it is illegal to have sex with "any person under 18 years of age of chaste life": https://malegislature.gov/Laws/GeneralLaws/PartIV/TitleI/Chapter272/Section4

I was discussing with some friends the supposition that this law sounded fairly archaic. I'd like to find out when this law was passed, but some googling did not turn up a result. How do I find out when the law was passed.


The phrase "of chaste life" appears in a bill passed on June 25, 1886:

Whoever induces any person under the age of eighteen years of chaste life and conversation to have unlawful sexual intercourse shall be punished by imprisonment in the state prison, common jail, or house of correction not exceeding three years or by fine not exceeding one thousand dollars or by both fine and imprisonment in the jail or house of correction.

Note that this language is substantially similar to the language that is currently in effect; the main changes are that the penalty was changed a little, and that the phrase "chaste life and conversation"1 was replaced with "chaste life".

Combined with the 1836 law found by user6726, this narrows it down to a range of about 50 years.

1 "Conversation" in the above context appears to be an archaic sense of the word meaning one's "manner of conducting oneself in the world or in society; behaviour, mode or course of life."

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It is actually difficult to say when you are looking at "the same law", historically, since there can be a law passed at one point, and it is modified years later to distinguish two or more subcases to be treated differently. This bill from 1895 is the earliest probably source, out of the online-available bills passed in Massachussetts. In the 1836 Revised Statutes, we find chapter 125 sect 18 dealing with the same subject matter which says

If any person shall ravish and carnally know any female, of the age of ten years or more, by force and against her will, or shall unlawfully and carnally know and abuse any female child, under the age of ten years, he shall suffer the punishment of death for the same.

with no mention of chastity (nor in neighboring sections). The law with minor rewording moves to Ch. 160 sect. 26 in the 1860 consolidation, again no chastity clause. Ch. 202 sect. 27 of "The Public Statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachussetts", which seems to cover acts up to Nov. 19 1881, repeats this wording again without mention of being chaste. So I think the best conclusion is that it was in 1895.

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Some additional legislative history to add to what @user6726 has mentioned:

[S]tatutory amendments to G.L. c. 272, the same chapter of the General Laws as the incest statute, that contain the term "sexual intercourse" compel us to construe this term in G.L. c. 272, § 17, more narrowly than would otherwise be the case. The term "sexual intercourse" also appears in §§ 2, 3, 4, 6, and 14 of G.L. c. 272. [ 7] Since its 1974 amendment of the rape statutes, G.L. c. 265,§§ 22, 22A, 23, which substituted the terms "sexual intercourse" and "unnatural sexual intercourse" for the archaic "ravishes and carnally knows," see St.1974, c. 474, §§ 1-3, and our decision construing these terms in Commonwealth v. Gallant, supra, the Legislature has amended G.L. c. 272, §§ 2, 6, 14, but has not expanded the scope of the proscribed offenses to include "unnatural sexual intercourse." [ 8] Moreover, the Legislature recently rewrote G.L. c. 272, § 3 (an act criminalizing the overpowering of another by means of an intoxicating substance for sexual purposes), substituting the terms "sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse" for the term "unlawful sexual intercourse." See St.1998, c. 232, § 3. This same legislation rewrote G.L. c. 272, § 4, which criminalizes "induc[ing] any person under 18 years of age of chaste life to have unlawful sexual intercourse," to revise the penalty provisions, but did not similarly expand the scope of this offense to include "unnatural sexual intercourse."

Commonwealth v. Smith, 728 N.E.2d 272, 278, 431 Mass. 417, 423-424 (2000).

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