The Marriage Trap: Marriages in the 1920’s and 1930’s (and earlier)

On marriages in the 1920’s and 1930’s: In the 1920’s, the divorce rate had reached an “unbearably high” rate of 10%-15% in the US, giving rise to “trial marriages.” Couples technically weren’t supposed to have sex, and if a young woman got pregnant, judges were known to consider those trial marriages to be valid marriages. In 1924, an 18-year-old tried to end what was actually a trial marriage, but the judge on the case…just read this and try not to scream at how he views an abusive relationship as just someone trying to walk away from an “unsatisfying marriage”: Till Disinterest Do Us Part: Trial Marriage, Public Policy, and the Fear of Familial Decay in the United States, 1900-1930
Kuby, William. Journal of the History of Sexuality; Austin Vol. 23, Iss. 3, (Sep 2014): 383-414.

He deemed the two cohabitating as a full legal marriage and wouldn’t let her escape.

Worse, he actually said, “It is better that a few be made to suffer and to lie in the bed which they voluntarily made, than to break down the walls which the church and civilization has built up about the marriage contract.”

Just let that sink in. An 18-year-old mother forced to remain with an abuser, a literal sacrificial lamb.

“Edgcomb thus ruled against Lottie in an effort to disrupt the trend toward short-term marriage and to affirm his belief that trial marriage defied widely held notions of public policy, however ill defined.”

Something you don’t hear much about is men seeking divorces. They were the ones with the physical power and who could cheat all they wanted (this isn’t polyamory). They could turn their wives out and, if they wanted, keep the children. Divorce laws were to stop women from being able to escape. And it was literally as easy to be trapped as to be a woman in a toxic relationship with a man who decides to hold her out as being his wife, no marriage license necessary, and no escape without a judge thinking you’re abused enough to deserve it.

In 1969, California’s governor, Ronald Reagan (former actor, and one of the worst presidents the US has ever seen, possibly on par with Trump, literally) signed into law the nations first no-fault divorce law which allowed divorces without the almost-impossibly high bar to get a judge to approve. His own first wife managed to get a divorce on grounds of mental cruelty, which embarrassed him. He didn’t regret anything other than being publicly called out for being an abuser. The law enabled abused women to get divorces without that.

But he turned around and called that bill the biggest mistake of his career. Not ignoring the AIDS crisis (to which he literally said, “Look pretty and do as little as possible” when asked what should be done, and his own then-wife Nancy had to talk him into finally taking action after one of her own friends died from it) or closing down mental health facilities to force families to provide 24/7 in-home care without assistance.

Nope. Biggest mistake was enabling abused women to get away.

And there are still, STILL people to this day who believe women should stick it out, no matter what. Don’t give Lori Alexander any blog hits, but look up what she says to raped wives and battered wives (it it’s REAL rape and REAL abuse, of course a victim ALWAYS reports it so a REAL rapist and REAL abuser will go to jail for a while, with his victim-wife dutifully waiting, and if that doesn’t happen, then she was lying), and women whose husbands molest the kids (to that one, report him to the police, let him go to jail, and when the kids are 18, then return to the marriage since he has the rights to his wife’s body).

Imagine how bad it would have been in the 1930s, when trial marriages were so heavily blasted, as well as women trying to get a divorce.

On April 30, 1933, the marriage laws in the state of New York changed, and common law marriages were no longer valid. Until that point, two people holding themselves out as husband and wife were legally viewed as husband and wife. But after that point, a marriage license was required.

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