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Divorce Once Major News

By Rose H. McIlveen Sept 24 1983

Treatment of Divorce – 1920s style – in the Bloomington Evening World was a far cry from the tactful avoidance of that particular legal matter today.

HAPPILY married couple, Emsley J. May and Cletus Jessie Straly, on September 27, 1924. Photo from MCHC (1600.092.0016)

Only a casual glance at the front page of the Evening World indicates the difference in page make-up style and editorial policy. It was, admittedly, a different time, when divorces were far less common.

Sandwiched in between large advertisements on the front page were vital statistics, which, if printed at all today, are found elsewhere in the newspaper.

Take, for example, one case where the male plaintiff alleged that his wife failed to keep “his” house in order and would not cook or mend his clothes. She also “treated him cruelly, “ whatever that meant.

Another front page item in the Evening World stated that a wife had a violent and ungovernable temper – that she would call him mean names and leave him for periods of time.

A female complainant had told her attorney that her spouse would not provide a home for her and did not talk to her and was “sullen.” This particular item appeared under the simple headline, “Divorces Filed,” which was – remember – on the front page and just under two other news stories informing the reader about the temperature in Wisconsin and the predicted price of a bushel of Georgia peaches.

Unfortunately, some violence was also the alleged reason for divorce filings. One wife complained that her husband, who, she said had been convicted of larceny in another state, struck her with “knucks and at one time shot at her.” Still another wife claimed that her spouse struck her and called her vile names.

In some respects, the front page of the Evening World contained almost everything you ever wanted to know about Bloomington marriages but were afraid to ask – licenses, wedding accounts, and births as well as divorce cases.

On a “slow” news day, the Evening World detailed two divorces under the big, attention-getting headline which read “Mismated Couples Seek Separation.” Apart from the fact that the headline constituted an editorial judgment on the part of the person who wrote it, the article itself, would, by standards today, have been a gross violation of the privacy of the persons involved.

In the first case, the wife stated that after her first filing for divorce, her husband, “south her and by promises and inducements, was able to obtain her consent to dismiss the case against him…” He furthermore had agreed to give her $10 of his $20-$25 weekly salary. He failed to pay the agreed sum, bought a farm three miles from town, and ordered her to leave his home and “never live with him again.”

On the other hand, another case involved children, whom their mother alleged, were not being supported by their father. All she requested was custody of the children. That particular item was surrounded on the front page by a murder investigation, an Indiana University professor’s out-of-town speaking engagement, a Breeden’s department store advertisement, and a long news story about the collection of cast-off clothing to be sent to “clothe the near-naked and destitute of the Bible lands of the Near East…”

Nor were the final settlements of divorce cases left to the imaginations of the readers of the Evening World. In one case the division of property reads as follows: she got the “rest estate and five cows,” and he got “his blacksmith tools, automobile, and one cow.”


The Monroe County History Center has an index of all divorce records from 1818-1960