Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Tuesday not quite Ten--Divorce in Victorian America

After doing Tuesday ten for lo these many years, we have decided to cut ourselves a little slack. Mostly because it's darned hard to come up with ten of anything, never mind ten Victorian things. I am much relieved. So this week for my blog, I'm doing Divorce in Victorian America and not actually counting how many little tidbits I can put down.

All of this information comes, by the way, from The Road to Reno, Nelson Manfred Blake. This book fascinates me, mostly because I had believed for many years that divorce in America was strictly a 20th century phenomena, mostly late 20th century. When I was growing up (I'm dating myself here) divorce was still one of those things people whispered about. No one knew anyone who was divorced, and if you were, well, there was something wrong with you. Considering that one of Yale's Presidents, Timothy Dwight was appalled at the rate of divorce in his state--estimated at 1% of marriages over a period of 5 years--the stigma was much worse back then. But consider again--1 in 100 divorces in five years. As much as we often think differently, you could get divorced in the 19th century, you could in fact get divorced in the U.S. in the 18th century, and people did. Thus my fascination.

The book is not written in a time line, so coming up with information along those lines is hard. But I've seen a few things both interesting and puzzling, and I'll do my best to get the dates straight.

1.) It appears that at the time of the revolution, divorce was obtained based upon English common law. That is to say if a couple wanted a divorce, they had to apply to the ruling body, not the court system. Thus at the start of the 19th century the colonies-turned-states were in transition. The northern states seem to be the first to change the application of divorce from applying to the legislature, who would have to create a separate bill, to the court system. It took some time to do this, and often for a period of years a couple could obtain a divorce either way. However, by 1867, 33 0f 37 stares had prohibited legislative divorces. Why? Too much time, too little consistency. One year the legislature made up of a,b, and c, might decided to grant a divorce to one couple based upon these ground. The next year, the legislature made up of x,y and z, would not.

2.) There was such a thing as partial divorce. This was basically separation of bed and board, and was often, in the earlier years the answer to "extreme cruelty." Eventually this sort of thing went out the door, often because it seemed to cause more lapses in morality than corrected--if you couldn't marry, well many people were still going to get their lovin' somewhere, maybe several somewheres. Better to allow these people to divorce and remarry with the hope that they'd stay faithful to once person, than risk the souls of all those others, right? Right.

3.) In the beginning of the period, many states provided quite a number of grounds for divorce. Some of them, such as consanguinity (marrying a relative) seems just logical. The often sighted bigamy gives me pause (if the person has been married before, than you can't be married to them now, right? So how would divorce apply?) others seem well thought out and not something I'd have considered the "very conservative Victorians" to have allowed--desertion, imprisonment, former criminal charges (unknown at the time of marriage), intemperance (aka alcoholism) and extreme cruelty. Granted, at a time when women were just beginning to have some legal standing in the country, "extreme cruelty" often referred to behavior that was hazardous to life, but still. . . if you thought no one could divorce, this seems almost kind and compassionate.

4.) Not all states were kind and compassionate. In South Carolina there was no divorce (it was the only state that stood by this). Period. None. Not for adultery, not for desertion, not for imprisonment. Be sure you know whom your marrying, baby, 'cuz you're stuck with them.

5.) The second strictest state was--hold onto your hats--New York. Who would've thought it of the state that had New York City in it? What with Five Points Gangs, and contraception readily available even after the Comstock Laws. But yes, New York was strict. Divorce was only allowed for adultery and then for many years only the injured party was allowed to remarry. People could and sometimes did, however, manage to get annulments. You could do this based upon many factors, the best one being "fraud". The judges decided what "fraud" was, and sometimes it was a simple as "He said he was honest. But I found out he operates a poolroom". Annulment granted.

In 1879, New York finally passed a law allowing remarriages for both parties--as long as they were not divorced before 1879. If so, they would have to do what everyone else appeared to do--leave the state to remarry.

Which brings me to my 6th and final interesting fact:

6.) Divorce colonies. What if you could not get a divorce in your state? What if you desperately needed one--we'll take, for example a woman whose husband drank so much he could not support her or her children, and even if she was able to work, he stole her money and spent it on alcohol. How to cope?

Go to another state.

Granted this would not have been much of an option for our poor example (being poor that is) but for many it was an option. The procedure--establish a temporary residence, then sue for divorce. States whose residence laws were lax would often become "divorce colonies". Eventually they would correct for that, of course. But for awhile, people took advantage of the situation. In the eastern states a year's residence was required, still for true misery, it was deemed worth it (Connecticut, however, even with pretty liberal divorce laws, required 3 years). Some known divorce colonies: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois (Chicago was "the place to go" during the Civil War) and the Dakotas. Indiana had virtually no residence requirement until 1859. The Dakota's had a 3 month residence requirement through much of the period.

So, when you're thinking of the good ole' days when everyone stayed married--well they didn't. And many traveled great distances to get that divorce. And for those who didn't do that--well here's another option. Remember there were no Social Security numbers, very little way of keeping track of people back then. What was to stop anyone from abandoning his/her spouse, running away with a lover to another state and "marrying" there and starting a new life? Who would know?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Taking a (day) Trip Back in Time

This past weekend, my family and I took a little day trip back in time. Not far from where I live in Rochester, NY, there is a jewel known as the Genesee Country Museum. Situated on 600 acres of beautiful farm land in Genesee County, NY, it’s a collection of the art and architecture of a long-ago era—beautiful old houses that have been moved and lovingly restored, right down to the last detail, complete with furniture and accessories accurate to the period in which the structure was built.

Think Williamsburg VA on a smaller scale. Or, as I like to think of it, Disney World for the history buff, LOL.

Since the gates first opened to the public in 1976, it has been my favorite place in the whole world. It’s like stepping into another time.

Once inside the gates you’re greeted by the great meadow, a curving slope complete with bandstand that serves as an amphitheater for events held at the museum throughout the year, from a Highlanders Bagpipe march, to a nineteenth century circus or Fourth of July celebration. This day it would serve as the battlegrounds of Gettysburg for a Civil War reenactment. (Never mind that little person scaling the barrier—he’s with me.)

But the first order of business was to visit the 19th century village—sixty-eight restored and fully furnished buildings (the oldest home was built in 1797). An old country store; a ladies dressmaking shop, doctor’s office, a law office, a pharmacist, bookseller, printer, a blacksmith, tinsmith, cooper, a gunsmith, wagon maker and opera house are all part of the village. For most of the businesses, you can walk right in and browse, others have a waist-high Plexiglas door to keep you from going inside.

My favorite, by far, has always been the Livingston-Bacchus house.

This beautiful Greek revival structure (and I regret that I didn’t take any pictures of the inside; I wasn’t thinking about a blog, just enjoying a day with my family and thinking how much my Victorian sisters would love this place!) always seems to set my imagination wild. The gardens as well make me think about the hero and heroine who might slip outside on a warm summer evening for a romantic embrace in the gazebo.

I know what my hero and heroine would be doing out here!

To read more about the Livingston Bacchus house,

click http://www.gcv.org/attractions/historicVillage/villageHomes/Livingston.shtml

Not far from this beautiful home is another favorite, the Hamilton House. (below)

This is one of the few homes where you can actually head upstairs and look around. Again, I wish I’d had my head on straight, LOL, I’d have taken more pictures. These homes are every bit as breathtaking on the inside as they are on the out. For more information on the Hamilton House, click here http://www.gcv.org/attractions/historicVillage/villageHomes/Hamilton.shtml

The Octagon house scared my kids, LOL. They thought it looked creepy. But I think it’s a stroke of genius in architecture and wouldn’t mind living in one myself. http://www.gcv.org/attractions/historicVillage/villageHomes/Octagon.shtml

After a folk music revival at St. Feehan’s Catholic Church we watched Confederate troops march into the village and returned to the grassy meadow for a picnic lunch and re-enactment of Pickett’s Charge in the round. By the end of the day, I think a true interest in history was sparked in both my young sons—the oldest was impressed with the soldiers and battle, the youngest with how people lived in “the olden days.” They both want to know when we can go back again.

All in all, despite weather that switched from skin-soaking rain, to heat and humidity that had sweat dripping down our backs, it was a great day for a trip back in time.

For more information on Genesee Country Museum, visit http://www.gcv.org/index.shtml

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Tuesday 10: To Knight or not to Knight

What makes Dame Judie Dench or Sir Paul McCarthy worthy of being knighted and er…damed? I have no idea. Sure, I like some of her movies and some of his songs, but knighted?

But here are 10 people knighted (ok, MEN considering the time) for various contributions to the crown. You be the judge.

  1. Rowland Hill, a schoolmaster, invented the adhesive postage stamp in 1837
  2. George Williams, President of the Young Men's Christian Association in 1894
  3. Isaac Pitman, inventor of the Pitman Phonetic System of Shorthand in 1894
  4. Joseph Hickson, manager of the Grand Trunk Railroad 1890
  5. Dr. J.E. Bourinot, clerk of the Dominion House of Commons
  6. Pryce Pryce Jones, owner of the first mail-order business (he supplied Queen Victorian with her unmentionables), 1887
  7. John A. Macdonald, first Prime Minister of Canada, 1867 (on July 1, Canada Day!)
  8. James Simpson, a member of her Majesty’s Physicians [no date given]
  9. William Venner, introduced matches to Canada, c. 1870 [based on circumstantial evidence]
  10. Mayor of Wrexham (you find his name, I swear they struck it from the records!) for…drum roll please…pomp & circumstance in honor of a visit from Queen Victoria, 1889.

    1. inventors.about.com/od/mstartinventions/a/mail.htm
    4-5. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=9C0DE6D81539E033A25750C0A9679C94619ED7CF
    6. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/wales/mid/3595420.stm
    7. www.suite101.com/reference/queen_victoria
    8. http://www3.bc.sympatico.ca/st_simons/cr9905.htm
    9. http://boards.ancestry.com/surnames.venner/1/mb.ashx
    10. http://www.wrexham.gov.uk/english/heritage/victorian_values/loyalty_hierarchy.htm

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Tuesday ten, Victorian Slang

From Random House Dictionary of American Slang, by J. E. Lighter. I have the first two editions, up to the letter O. The last one was never published, which irritates me to no end because these are really awesome books.

I'm choosing these sayings randomly, not to pun or anything. Okay, I did mean to pun. I just can't help it.

1.)bed rock, down to bed rock. Probably started as miners slang in the Rocky Mountains. First written reference (which I always assume means it was being used in speech 5-10 years earlier) is 1869. It means down to the essentials. Or, in this reference (the way I've used it in my writing) the heart of the matter--"and your poet has brought the matter down to bedrock."

2.)eat up-- to administer a decisive or ruinous defeat. From 1830 or so, and there are tons of references for this one. 1874: He seemed to determined to draw. . . .(him) into a fight and. . . ."Eat him up without salt."

3.)chain lightning--cheap potent whiskey or rum. 1837 on

4.)chalk--something that is genuine truth 1843. I've personally used this phrase a few times, just 'cuz I like it. not by a long chalk. 1841 by any mean. 1859--He can't do it by a long chalk.

5.) foofoo--a soft, weak or effeminate fellow, a sissy. from 1848 on. Seems to be originally out of mostly in New York, but I would imagine since it started in 1848, it migrated west some.

6.)Jim dandy--excellent, or an extraordinary person. also, Jim Hickey. 1887 on. Seems to have originated with baseball. "Whereas on Wednesday night they were proclaimed 'Jim Dandy' players, they were on Thursday proclaimed to be 'no good'."

7) love--fondle, caress, engage in sexual activity. I've used this a few times, because I've yet to come up with other Victorian euphemisms for sex. From 1876 (I expect it was much earlier, though).

8.)on one's own hook--on ones own initiative. 1812 on. There are quite a few references, which I think means it was pretty standard slang pretty quickly. from 1845 "She told me she was very economical. . .since she was. . .going upon her own hook. "

9.)out of sight--wonderfully good or impressive. Yeah, and you thought it was 1960's slang. Nope, originated around 1876 (remember, probably earlier in speech) and there are quite a few references after that. In Buffalo Bill "For ye see our beans an' crackers 'an our pork were outen sight."

10.)hell on wheels--most formidable, savage, aggressive. 1843 on. My reference here is from 1868--It is a most aggravated specimen of the border town of America, not inaptly called 'Hell on Wheels'

Monday, July 07, 2008

The End of the East Indian Company

Commonly known for its vast interests world-wide, and for being richer than many monarchs, the EIC was formed by English Royal Charter by Elizabeth I on December 31, 1600. Their goal was to favor trade privileges in India, with a 21 year monopoly on all trade in the East Indies. The Company transformed from a commercial trading venture to one that virtually ruled India and other Asian colonies as it acquired auxiliary governmental and military functions. What brought the demise of this company?

The Indian Mutiny of 1857, also known as The Sepoy Rebellion of 1857.

Deprived of its trade monopoly in 1813, the company was now a trading enterprise.
Following the 1857 war/rebellion, the Company was nationalised and lost all administrative functions and all Indian possessions in the Government of India Act 1858. It managed the Britishtea trade until the East India Stock Dividend Redemption Act and the Company was dissolved on January 1, 1874. The Times reported, "It accomplished a work such as in the whole history of the human race no other company ever attempted and as such is ever likely to attempt in the years to come."

It'd take a dissertation to really explain the rebellion but suffice it to say that:

  • It started as a mutiny of sepoys of British East India Company's army on May 10, 1857, in the town of Meerut. It quickly erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions largely in the upper Gangetic plain and central India.
  • This uprising posed a considerable threat to Company power in that region and it was contained only with the fall of Gwalior on 20 June 1858.

  • Grievances over the issue of promotions, based on seniority, as well as the increasing number of European officers in the battalions which made promotion difficult.
  • Controversy over the new Pattern 1853 Enfield Rifle. To load the new rifle, the sepoys had to bite the cartridge open. It was believed that the paper cartridges that were standard issue with the rifle were greased with lard (pork fat) which was regarded as unclean by Muslims, or tallow (beef fat), regarded as sacred to Hindus.

The civilian rebellion where there were three groups: feudal nobility, rural landlords called taluqdars, and the peasants.

  • The nobility, many of whom had lost titles and domains under the Doctrine of Lapse, which refused to recognise adopted children of princes as legal heirs. They felt the Company interfered with their traditional system of inheritance.

  • The taluqdars lost half their landed estates to peasant farmers as a result of the land reforms that came in the wake of annexation of Oudh. As the rebellion gained ground, the taluqdars reoccupied their lands, and, in part due to ties of kinship and feudal loyalty, didn't experience significant opposition from peasant farmers, many of whom joined the rebellion to the great dismay of the British.

  • Money lenders, as a result of reorganization by the Company of lads caused a great may farmers to go into debt. So they, in addition to the EIC, were particular objects of the rebels' animosity.

And that's not all. Areas where the rebellion began stayed calm while other areas where it spread did not. Some landowners stayed loyal, others even prosperous ones, did not.

For more:


Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Battle of Gettysburg

Today is July 2nd. In the year 1863, one of the bloodiest battles lasting three days was happening in the little town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

The battle began on July 1st and ended on July 3rd with a Union victory. Before this battle, the Confederate Army had been winning most of the battles, likely why they tried to go so far north.

It's hard to imagine how it must have felt for the inhabitants of that sleepy Pennsylvania town. The closest the war had come to them had been the battle of Antietam at Sharpsburg, Maryland.

I've visited Gettysburg and heard the story of Jenny Wade, the only civilian killed in that battle. And the site where General Reynolds was taken after he'd been shot on the battlefield. Ghost stories abound of the many who died during those three days. There are also stories of the horrors the townspeople witnessed and how they rallied to try to nurse wounded and bury so many dead. Just the sounds of shelling and horrible smells had to be terrible.

Gettysburg is a fascinating site with loads of history. It's a place I like to visit again and again.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Tuesday Ten: Fascinating Fourth Facts

I really debated which way to go with this week's Tuesday Ten; I thought about doing a blog on the time line of events leading up to the Signing of the Declaration of Independence; and I considered doing some Fourth of July trivia. Neither one really fit into the Victorian era, both were interesting but the one about the Declaration of Independence didn't really fit for a Tuesday Ten (though it may show up on my personal blog one day this week). As for the other .... do we really care how many hot dogs are consumed every year on the Fourth??

Ever the indecisive one, I scrapped both ideas and came up with this instead. *G*

1781 – The first official celebration of the Fourth occurred in Massachusetts.

1801 – The first public Fourth of July reception at the White House occurred.

1804 – The first Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi occurred at Independence Creek and was celebrated by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.

1805 – Boston has its first fireworks display.

1866 – General George G. Meade watches 10,000 war veterans parade in Philadelphia. In an editorial, the Nashville Banner urges its citizens not to celebrate the Fourth.

1876 – Centennial celebrations occurred throughout the United States, many of them three-day affairs celebrated from July 3-5

1884 – formal presentation of the Statue of Liberty takes place in Paris

1887 – The first Fourth of July celebration in Yellowstone National Park takes place.

1912 – The new national flag with 48 stars is formally and officially endowed.

1926 – The 150th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence is celebrated throughout the nation.

1960 –the American flag with 50 stars is flown for the first time after Hawaii is given statehood.

1976 – the nation’s Bicentennial is celebrated.