Sunday, February 1, 2009

Alimony 1925

"Before the 1960s divorced women were unable to find jobs to support themselves therefore alimony was necessary."  In present-day discussions about alimony this assertion, or some variation of it, appears frequently. Are such assertions true?  The answer is ... a resounding "No!" And we can prove it.

Not only was alimony (for childless divorcees) not regarded as necessitated by the treatment of women in the job market long before the 1960s, but alimony -- and what came in the 1920s to be called "alimony racketeering" -- was the subject of public discussion nationally from before the beginning of the 20th century.

Alimony injustice was widespread before the beginning of the 20th century. But it was not until the early 1900s that men who had been through the divorce ringer began to make an effort to get together and address the issue in organized groups.

In the early years of the new century informal "Alimony Clubs" began to de talked of.

A 1904 nationally syndicated news story reported that

"Ten thousand men in New York, it is estimated conservatively, are paying alimony, says the New York press. Hundreds, perhaps thousands, are dodging it. Ten thousand women are receiving returns from ventures in matrimony that lasted anywhere from a few days to many years, and hundreds would collect similar payments if they could. Many of these men are supporting two households. Some of them have married again and must provide for wife No. 2 as well as for wife No. 1. Others are called upon to furnish funds for the maintenance of their former wives, although these women may have becomes the wives of other men. The general rule of the courts is to allow the woman one-third of her husband’s income as alimony, which makes the payments range from $5 a week to $100 or more, although the larger amount is seldom reached. The Alimony club of New York, as this aggregation of men is known, is one of the largest in the world and its non-resident list is a wonder. [excerpt from: “New York Now Has an Alimony Club – Ten Thousand Alimony and Hundreds More Dodge the Court Order,” Fort Wayne Sentinel (In.), May 4, 1904] Full text at:
The year 1909 saw a worsening of alimony injustice, when an Illinois judge opened the door to all ex-wives who had not demanded alimony in their previous divorces to have the option of showing up to demand payment years or even decades after the divorce.

"Chicago. May 11. – Divorced men received a shock from Judge Farlin Q. Ball yesterday that caused not a few of them to seek the advice of lawyers at once. Although divorced fifty years, was the purport of the bombshell exploded by the jurist, and although no mention of alimony was made in the decree, no divorced man is safe from payment of that peculiarly irksome obligation so long as his former wife lives and fails to remarry. Judge Ball calmly announced from the bench that, while a decree of divorce ended the other marital obligations, the duty of a husband to support his wife and her right to demand and receive such support was not thereby ended. He further held that only the death of one of the parties, remarriage of the woman or a stipulated sum of money accepted by her in lieu of alimony at the time of obtaining her divorce could prevent the divorced wife from demanding alimony at any time she felt the need of such support, and the court felt her former husband was able to render such.  In other words – that is, in plain American language – a wife who obtained a divorce twenty-five years ago, or even fifty, according to Judge Ball, can bob up unexpectedly and, having discovered that her former spouse has become wealthy or merely well fixed, may go into court and successfully demand her 'rights.'" [“Gives Men Who Are Divorced Cold Shivers – Chicago Jurist Declares Alimony is Due in All Cases,” Fort Wayne Sentinel (Ind.), May 11, 1909]

A crack in the alimony racket began to reveal itself in Chicago on November 30, 1925 when Judge Harry Lewis made an announcement during a divorce proceeding that was taken by many in the large audience as so shocking as to elicit a collective gasp. The papers reported that “Few women divorce seekers will receive alimony in the future from Chief Justice Harry A. Lewis of the superior court, he declared yesterday. One hundred women, who crowded the court waiting their turn to obtain freedom and comfortable alimony awards, gasped as they heard the unprecedented announcement by the court. They also listened to a stinging arraignment of what the judge called “professional alimony diggers.”

"New York, Sept. 30.—All the gold-diggers are not engaged in showing a good time to the visiting “butter and egg” men on Broadway. Thousands of them, according to the experience of Supreme Court Justice Sela B. Strong, are quiet home women who take pride in displaying their wedding rings. The gold-digger method of the latter type is alimony.

'Alimony and "separate" maintenance money enables many a woman who has only hatred and revenge in her heart toward her husband to hold him in virtual slavery,' says Justice Strong after an extended term of hearing alimony cases. I am opposed to awarding alimony except for definite and extraordinary reasons. I do not believe childless wives should receive alimony. Where there are children to be supported, of course that is a different matter. But in this day when the sexes are theoretically equal before the law, women should not cling to their old privileges so hard that they evade their responsibilities. The mother of children, however, is the last person to appear in the divorce court. Childless women are the great seekers of alimony. Judges are allowed so little discretion that they are required by the law in this state to grant alimony in about 60 per cent of the cases. I think the facts would not justify it in mere than 10 per cent.'

 -- Against 'Romantic Sentimentality.' --

Judge Strong doesn’t propose to have wives pay alimony to husbands, or any such extreme absurdity. He simply wants to dispense justice without the interference of romantic sentimentality. And men in court today, he finds, are in need of protection.

'Just last week a woman carne in who was making $45 a week and her husband only $30, the judge recalls. She didn’t get any alimony. There was another case when a jury brought in a verdict for a woman in the face of evidence most conclusively against her. She got up and began to thank the court. ‘Don’t thank them,’ I interrupted, ‘for I am going to set aside this verdict.’ There are many cases in which a woman marries just because she is tired of earning her own living, and she clings to her husband for support tenaciously. The husband is almost powerless when she starts her suit for temporary alimony. A case arose recently in which, a wife had been collecting for five years, pending the trial, and the husband was impoverished. Yet she would never willingly relinquish her grip. Court records in New York show there are twenty suits for separation to one for divorce. Women tire of their husband and get rid of them, but hold out their hands for money. When alimony becomes an issue there is almost no chance for reconciliation.'" [Britt, George, “Judge Assails Divorce Court ‘Gold Diggers,’” syndicated (NEA), Freeport Journal-Standard (Il.), Sep 30, 1925]

Justice Sela B. Strong was interviewed in early 1926 for an article explaining his refiormist views on alimony entitlement. Here is an excerpt quoting the judge:

"Her ability to secure alimony on the flimsiest excuse is a club in the hands of a selfish, vindictive wife. She can, and often does, wave it constantly over her husband’s head to keep him tractable. The trouble is that we are bound today by marriage laws and their offshoots that took root in days long past when conditions were not as they are today and when the status and economic position of woman was in large measure dependent on some man for her support. The business woman hadn’t been invented or discovered.

In the real analysis the laws to protect the wife were not passed for the wife’s sake. They were passed for the public’s sake. There had to be some coercive regulations to discourage bored husbands from unloading their helpless wives upon an already overburdened community.

The true daughter of today seeks no favors from men and accepts none, because she knows that she needs no favors. That is why it seems almost unbelievable that a right-minded woman without children will accept support from a man she has ceased to love and live with when she must realize it is at the cost of her self-respect.

However, the point is that instead of a former marriage hurting a woman’s market value (to put it in a vulgar way) it seems actually to make her more desirable. Witness the success – in the marriage mart of widows, legal as well as actual. Indeed, if observation counts for anything, they attract more admiration than the feminine novices. In passing, it may be said that divorce statistics show, that the marriages of the once before wives are more durable as a general thing than the marriages of the never before.

That is why it gives one’s sense of justice a terrific jolt when, as it frequently happens, it develops that a woman separated from her husband and seeking alimony, has a bigger income than he. I have in mind a man who at the time of this writing is in jail for non-payment of alimony. And it appears that his childless wife, having gone into business since their separation, has made a success and is earning more money than he earns or ever did earn or probably ever will earn. The question is: Did she have him thrown into jail in order to get money or revenge?

At any rate, this case, and there are literally thousands like it, shows that the alimony “big stick” smites the man coming and going. I am convinced that very few of the actions for separation with alimony by childless women are sincere; that is, based on their honest belief that they are really entitled to what they ask." [Strong, Selah B. (as told to A. E. Bearman), syndicated, (International Feature Service), “Getting After Our ‘Alimony Heiresses,’” syndicated (International Feature Service), Hamilton Evening Journal (Oh.), Feb. 6, 1926] Full text at:

Witthin a year of the publication of this review, a group of New Yorkers announced they were forming a national organization to attack the problem.

Announced in January 1927, the New York-based Alimony Payers' Protective Association was off the ground in early May. A nationally syndicated article -- published in The Washington Post amounfg many other newspapers across the country -- explained the groups objectives in terms that may surprize present-day activists with the ring of familiarity:

"BADGERED and brow-beaten to the point of desperation, the long-suffering alimony payers of this fair land are at last organizing to protect their rights as human beings and members of society. The movement had its inception in New York, long the happy hunting ground of the alimony girls. It is called the Alimony Payers’ Protective Association, and has some 750 members, although only a few weeks old. It will spread, lawyers, judges and laymen agree, for popular disgust with the alimony provisions of the divorce laws has been growing rapidly in the last few months, and students of law say that it will prove to be one of the really significant and important movements of the decade.

Sponsors of the association say that it aims to achieve the following objectives: Protect the American home against unscrupulous lawyers out for fat divorce court fees and nothing else. Secure uniform divorce and separation laws in all the States. Discourage the perjury, blackmail, conspiracy and extortion so frequent in litigation involving marital relations. Do away with court discrimination in favor of women.

Robert Gilbert Ecob, a New York architect, is the Moses who is to lead the alimony payers out of Egypt into the promised land of fair dealing and common sense, and he is very serious about the crusade. 'Too many persons seem to think this alimony, business is funny until it hits them in their pocketbook nerve,' he says. 'For years now there has been more or less jesting about alimony clubs, husbands kept in jail by money-hungry wives, and the inability of a man to get a square deal in court when opposed by a pretty and tearful woman. When a husband fell into arrears and was jailed, it was considered excruciatingly humorous. The alimony payer was a ridiculous and ignominious figure—to his wife, to the public, to his wife’s lawyers, and even to his own attorneys. But the alimony question is one of the most serious problems of our time.'" (Excerpt from: “Alimony Payers to Fight for Their Rights,” Anonymous, syndicated, Johnsons Features, Odgen Standard Examiner (Ut.), May 22, 1927]
Two months later an Anti-Alimony group was formed in Chicago, this time by a woman -- the second wife of a man being raked over the coals by a high living gold-digger of an ex.

CHICAGO, July 12—A modern Joan Arc has risen here in the person of one Mrs. Bessie Cooley, and round her standards are gathering recruits from Chicago’s pretty badly defeated army of alimony payers. Her cry is: “Down with alimony gold-digging.” “Millions for defense, but not one cent for alimony,” the heartened troops under her command are singing as a march song. Mrs. Cooley is the wife of Dr. Vernon P. Cooley. Cooley was married once before and the first wife is still receiving alimony, which makes the present militant Mrs. Cooley angry.

The Illinois appellate court recently ruled on Dr. Cooley’s petition to have the alimony to the first Mrs. Cooley stopped. The court supported his contention that Mrs. Cooley No. 1 was spending the money he was paying her in riotous living, but that fact, so the court ruled, as a mere moral issue, did not warrant any order for the discontinuance of payments. It was a long legal treatise on morality and alimony. And the upshot of the whole thing was that Dr. Cooley was ordered to keep paying and probably would have done so if it hadn’t been for Mrs. Cooley No. 2.

“No, sir,” she said. “Let them put you in jail. But don’t pay another cent. No woman without children, who is able to support herself, is deserving of alimony. If while she is living with him and is still his wife, a woman, conducts herself in an improper, manner, a husband can go into court and rid himself of her completely. But if after she divorces him and lives riotously, on the alimony he is forced to pay her, it is irreconcilable that his duty to her should be greater than while he is married to her. The two theories don’t harmonize. There are too many gold-diggers among divorced women, and half of them aren’t deserving of consideration.”

-- Forms Anti-Alimony League --

As the first part of her drive Mrs. Cooley is forming the Society of Disgruntled Alimony Payers. Eligibility to membership will be based on experience only.

A big mass meeting of members is being planned and will-take place here just as soon as the society can whip its battle plans into shape. Many Chicago judges agree with Mrs. Cooley that there is need for a movement such as she has set in motion. They concur that alimony, to healthy and able-bodied ex-wives without children is as out of date in the changed order of social conditions as a horse and buggy. [Gibbons, Roy J., “Militant Wife Launches War Against Alimony in Chicago,” syndicated (NEA), Ogden Standard Examiner (Ut.), Jul. 12, 1927]

The American Anti-Alimony movement was now off the ground. We will discuss its subsequent development in upcoming articles.