Broken Vows and “Notorious” Endings: Divorce

Brenda E. Stevenson

in Life in Black and White

Published in print November 1997 | ISBN: 9780195118032
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780199853793 | DOI:
Broken Vows and “Notorious” Endings: Divorce

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Divorce was not a novel phenomenon in the antebellum era, despite the difficulties involved in obtaining it. The initial grounds—impotence, idiocy, and, bigamy—were expanded to include adultery and desertion in the latter part of the pre-Civil war years. The requirement of public documentation necessitated the involvement of the community, whose collective notions of proper and moral behavior between man and wife was a significant factor in the results of the proceedings. Several accounts of divorce cases from the era are recounted in the succeeding sections, showcasing instances of community support, disapproval, and moral outrage. Controversial cases involving interracial infidelity, spousal abuse, and desertion were often decided against the party deemed by the community as the shirker of expected marital behavior. In the final section of this chapter, divorce as a recourse for a spouse or husband's failings is contrasted among women, men, upper class elites, and their poorer counterparts.

Keywords: divorce; antebellum; impotence; idiocy; bigamy; adultery; desertion; wife; husband

Chapter.  8127 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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