Ebooks, Fiction, Non-Fiction 1000s of Free books and stories online to read now ~ Main Page

 

 

 

The Sioux Falls Divorce Colony

by James Realf, Jr.

1891

The thriving city of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, has recently been pitchforked into unjust notoriety by certain irresponsible correspondents of certain sensational and habitually inveracious newspapers that infest New York and Chicago. It has been represented as having an easy divorce mill that constantly grinds out divorces of a more or less bogus nature. This is fundamentally false. The laws of South Dakota are liberal, but they are strictly interpreted. These unscrupulous newspapers, whom it is unnecessary to name, have gone still further in their distortion of truth, dissemination of error and attempted degradation of the high and noble calling of journalism. They have made false and unwarranted statements about the laws of the Dakotas and of the United States generally on the subject of divorce. Nor is this all in their race for a temporary and unsubstantial circulation,—they have maligned certain unfortunate and meritorious women and men, and added insult to injury by publishing bogus portraits of beautiful ladies whose misfortunes should have provoked respectful sympathy rather than coarse insinuation and vulgar ridicule. Because these women were prominent in what has been termed the Divorce Colony of Sioux Falls, either from social rank in their former spheres, or by reason of the legal peculiarities enmeshing their cases, they are legitimate subjects for honest journalistic treatment, and some of them, triumphing over the natural shrinkingness of their sex, for the sake of truth and for the sake of other women who may need examples and incitements to achieve freedom from dishonoring marriages, are perfectly willing to sacrifice their own personal desires for obscurity and have their lives and their cases properly presented. I have even prevailed on a few to permit the use of their photographs to add to the personal interest of this article.

EVA LYNCH-BLOSSE; MRS. J. G. BLAINE, JR.;
MRS. MINA HUBBARD; DR. THOMAS D. WORRALL

The case of greatest interest, perhaps, because it has a transatlantic notoriety, is that of Eva Lylyan Lynch-Blosse, an English lady, who came to Sioux Falls early last winter and attracted almost instantly the respectful attention of the citizens. Not because she was a strikingly beautiful woman, for a student of statues might find some faults in her features, but because out of the shy, violet eyes a high, indomitable spirit occasionally gleamed and a stray flash from them, combined with her radiant freshness of complexion and perfect grace of figure and of carriage, would light up the common sordid streets of the common masculine mind and turn them, for the nonce, into vistas of imagination.

Some persons, passing us, inspire the thought: There goes a being with a strange life-history, or full of great capacities, moral or mental. Such was, undoubtedly, the chief component of her charm, felt equally by the grave and learned lawyer, ex-Judge Garland, who conducted her case, and by the street-loungers who respectfully hastened to make way for her passage. It was the high character that radiated from her, scorning the conventionalities that conspire to belittle her sex, determined to be free and not afraid of being a pioneer in baffling the barbarism of her native laws. A singular story hers, that demands to be told in full, since it is full of inspiration to oppressed womanhood everywhere.

The daughter of an English clergyman, she married at seventeen Lieut. Edward Falconer Lynch-Blosse, an Irishman of good family, but bad habits. In a few months this girl-wife discovered not only that she had mistaken for affection what was merely the gratified vanity of a boarding-school miss when wooed by a good-looking uniform, but that there was absolutely nothing in the nature of the animated uniform on which even respect could be built. Active brutality was soon begun by the lieutenant. Simple adultery not being a sufficient amusement for his hours of ease, he tried to compel his refined and delicate wife to receive his paid paramours as her associates; and on her demurring, he became mad with indignation and proceeded to discipline her, according to the Englishman’s time-honored right of violence. As a minor but very embarrassing matter to a sensitive woman, he plunged into debt and forced her to contend with and pacify his duns out of her private fortune, and even worried her into an attempt to raise money for him by pledging her annuity, though, luckily, no Jew in London was plucky enough to take a long risk on the life of the wife of so brutal a husband. This daily inferno of disgust and terror the woman endured for three years, for the barbarous English law requires the woman, not the man, to prove extreme cruelty besides adultery; and cruelty is often not so easy to prove, for Englishmen, as a rule, do not beat their wives on the housetops. It is generally a strictly boudoir performance, with locked doors and the rabble excluded, as befits the solemnity of such a marital right. At last, owing to the lieutenant’s culpable carelessness in castigation, she was able to go to court with plenty of provable cruelty. But here again the barbarous English law stepped in and said: “This is all very true, but wait a bit. You shall have a decree nisi,” which meant that she must wait six months and then a certain musty, overpaid, and underworked humbug, styled the Queen’s Proctor, after hobnobbing with an attorney-general, would, if his dinner agreed with him, confirm the decree and make it final. During this suspense the ineffably mean uniform that had been masquerading as a man was visited by an idea, and wrote a letter to Mrs. Lynch-Blosse depicting himself as on the brink of starvation and consumption, and begging for some money. The woman’s pity was aroused. She had once fancied for a brief while, with the undeveloped heart of girlhood, that she liked this empty, tinkling symbol of a man. She wrote him a kind letter enclosing the money. It takes but little imagination to understand what such a creature would do with the cash; that he would hasten to celebrate the success of his cunning by a revel at which he could brag to some loose companion how neatly he had cheated a generous and noble woman. But he did something more, almost inconceivable in its baseness; he took that letter to the Queen’s Proctor and showed it to that archive of centuried insapience as a proof that there had been collusion in the case, that his wife and he were really on good terms, and that he was anxious to regain her. The Proctor took his word, and without going into the case further, when the six months were up, refused to confirm the decree. And then her friends said: “You had better give up. England has decided that you cannot be free.” And her lawyers said: “Even with fresh evidence it would be foolish to re-open the fight. The action of the Queen’s Proctor is so insurmountable.” But the woman said to herself: “Though England has decided that I must be a slave, nevertheless I will be free.” Meantime Lieutenant Lynch-Blosse, after endeavoring to blacken his wife’s character in his regiment, and getting soundly thrashed for his pains, eloped with a light-headed Scotch peeress whose husband, Lord Torphichen, promptly obtained a divorce, with the custody of his children, and the elopers fled the kingdom, leaving a small army of swindled tradesmen who are still exceedingly anxious to discover their whereabouts. When last heard of, the ex-uniform was living in Chicago under an alias, and he will probably remain one of the many English ornaments of this country, for the same English law that permits a man to castigate his wife in moderation is excessively severe if he swindles tradesmen.

Mrs. Lynch-Blosse obtained her Dakotan divorce on the ground of adultery, the evidence being the record of the Scotch suit of Lord Torphichen against Lady Torphichen, otherwise styled the Right Hon. Ellen Frances Gordon, and apart from the wrongs, the beauty, and the pioneer courage of Mrs. Lynch-Blosse, picturesque as they made it, her case possesses profound interest to the legal mind. It adds to the weight of such cases as except to the old rule of domicile (Ditson v. Ditson, 4 R. I., 87; Harding v. Alden, 9 Mo. 140; Hollister v. Hollister, 6 Pa. St., 449; Derby v. Derby, 14 Ill. App., 645) by showing that where a husband is guilty of such conduct as would entitle even to a limited divorce, the wife is at liberty to establish a separate jurisdictional domicile. Moreover, Mrs. Lynch-Blosse might have obtained a divorce on grounds less strong than she did, for a divorce good at the place of domicile will be sustained in England, though the same grounds would have been insufficient to obtain it there. (Harvey v. Farnie, L. R. 8 App. Cas. 43; Turner v. Thompson, L. R., 13 P. D. 37.) Of this law, probably, comity of nations is the chief component. Those who admire moral courage and feel a glow of indignation at the fact that, in order to secure her natural right to own herself, a woman in the closing years of the nineteenth century has to spend thousands of dollars, travel thousands of miles, and sojourn among strangers, may be glad to know that since her freedom she has married an English gentleman of high character, and is living restfully in a charming little cottage on the banks of what Macaulay calls, in his picturesque way, “the river of the ten thousand masts.” The great, feverous heart of London throbs near.

Another very interesting personage in the Sioux Falls Divorce Colony, is Mrs. James G. Blaine, Jr., now living in a cosy cottage on the fashionable avenue with her sister, Miss Nevins, her son, James G. Blaine, 3d, and her maids. When Marie Nevins, piquantly pretty, witty, and accomplished, made a stolen match with the ungreat son of one of America’s greatest political figures, she little dreamed what the hands of the Fates—who are sometimes the Furies—were spinning for her; yet she wears her robes of sorrow with some of that grace of patience which comes to her sex like an instinct born of centuried servitude. How her husband ever fascinated so fascinatingly elusive a creature is a mystery to all who know him and a miracle to all who know her; but who has ever guessed the riddle of a woman’s heart? Surely no man yet known to the world, except possibly Balzac, and he only occasionally by some sort of electric, psychological accident. The true story of Mrs. Blaine’s infelicities has been carefully hidden from the public, although some superserviceable, would-be friends have now and then busied themselves with starting absurd rumors, as if for the fun of contradicting them; for instance, a precious yarn spun lately to the effect that Mrs. Blaine, senior, looked down on her daughter-in-law as not aristocratic enough to have married a Blaine. How intrinsically absurd is such an idea in connection with a family as close to what Lincoln called “the plain people”—and as really proud of so being—as that of the famous Republican leader! Blaine is a man so thoroughly democratic that only a very stupid enemy of his could have invented such a piece of self-convicting nonsense; for if aristocracy entered into the question, Mrs. James G. Blaine, Jr., could make a better showing than her spouse, since, if it confers any quasi-patent of nobility in this country to have a distinguished father, it must give a larger halo of social splendor to have a distinguished grandfather, etc., etc. Now, Mrs. Blaine, Jr., had a grandsire who was a power in his day, a forceful, brilliant man, Samuel Medary, who was successively governor of three States, Ohio, Kansas, and Minnesota. Mrs. Blaine, Jr., apart from her marital misfortunes, deserves much sympathy for her physical fate. Just lately her leg was broken again and her surgeons fear that her lameness must be perpetual. Yet the talk about her going on the stage has some basis, and no one who ever talked with her, and enjoyed the prismatic play of her facial expression and the flexions of her vibrant voice, could doubt her fitness for certain popular rôles. Nor need her lameness defeat her of success. A play of mingled pathos and humor could be written for a lame heroine. One excellent writer has offered to do it, and Hamlin Garland could do it excellently. Balzac in his marvellous book, “The Alkahest,” declares that she is blest among women, who, having some great bodily defect, nevertheless wins a man’s affections, for she never loses her hold on them, and it might very easily be the same with a lame actress and the affections of the public.

As to Mrs. Blaine’s case an immense interest is felt, an interest which lies not alone in the points of law. Mrs. Blaine, Jr., is a Catholic, and her example in taking this step contrary to the custom of her church is likely to be fruitful. It is a pretty safe prophecy that the next Pope will see the advisability of returning to the policy of the church prevalent before the Council of Trent, and will allow a wiser freedom to his spiritual subjects in this matter of divorce. Hearts were created before creeds, and the primal laws of God still possess, and exert in emergencies, their ancient vigor of eminent domain.

It is noticeable that nearly all the women in the colony have children, and nearly all are women of unusual grace or beauty, or mental gift—sometimes all three in one.

A very interesting person occasionally seen on the streets with a little golden-haired boy is Mrs. Mina Hubbard, formerly of Redbank, N. J. She has one of those olive, oval faces so often met in the south of Spain, and she has a voice whose beauty and volume are equally impressive. One day in the cosy, dozy little Methodist Church last summer she happened to join in the singing, and several pious nappers were sweetly startled from their theologic dreams. After that event there was such a marked increase in the masculine attendance that the lady’s modesty took fright, and she refrained from the pleasure of church-going. When I asked her if she had lost her fondness for Methodism and music, she replied archly: “Oh, no! I am extremely fond of going to church and hearing good congregational music, but I can restrain myself.”

Hon. Thomas D. Worrall, M. D., who has recently obtained a divorce and now lives in Sioux Falls, is another person of note. Born in England sixty-five years ago, he came to America young, moved to Boston and achieved reputation as an anti-slavery orator, even when the peerless Phillips was in his first blaze. Then he went to Colorado, was a member of the territorial legislature, and wrote his name largely and honorably on her early annals. Horace Greeley, who liked him heartily, persuaded him next to accept a professorship in New York in the American College of Medicine. Two years later, going to New Orleans, he became a member of the famous Warmouth Legislature, and as sanitary physician to New Orleans, added to his world-wide host of friends. While in England, in 1873, his lectures on the resources of the Mississippi Valley attracted wide attention, and he was greeted on his return by an ovation in the New Orleans Academy of Music. Colorado again claimed him for seven happy, industrious years, marked by an eloquent defence of the Denver Mining Exposition, for which they presented him with a cabinet of minerals that, according to experts, is intrinsically worth $5,000, though it would take vastly more to buy it from a man so covetous of honor. Removing to Washington, he published a curious little book called “Slander and Defamation of Character.”

Sickness came to this learned and benevolent man, and he went to London for treatment, but famous surgeons, after operating, could give him no hope, and he came back to his adopted country to die. To his amazement he found his home broken up, his valuable furniture sold, his wife gone. “The mystery of the case,” he has said, “is that my wife and I never had the least falling out. Her desertion of me in my old age and supposed last illness was like lightning out of a clear sky. The thought came to me, ‘Dying man that I am, it will be sweet to die free.’” He then came West and settled in Sioux Falls, and either the invigorating climate, or the inspiration of freedom, or the shock of his wife’s desertion (for in some diseases a sudden shock delays or defeats death by effecting an electric change in the bodily currents setting restward) have worked a marvellous change, for to-day this amiable and accomplished old man is the picture of health and vital power.

There are many other cases of great interest in the Divorce Colony at Sioux Falls, but this plain statement of a few is enough to show how grossly the personnel and character of the colony have been slandered by certain sensational and corrupt newspaper correspondents. For more than six months I have studied the conduct and natures of the persons who compose the divorce colony, and every reputable citizen of Sioux Falls will substantiate my statement that, with possibly three exceptions, the divorce seekers have been remarkable for the inherent justice of their suits and the dignity of their behavior during their residence in this town. The attempt to give them and the place an unenviable notoriety, made by certain newspapers, is a stain on American journalism. Men and women suffer enough before they seek a divorce court. It is ghoulish to pursue them in the press with misrepresentation and ridicule, or with exposure of their marital miseries. Divorce is not merely a legal right of the individual; it is often a moral duty which ought to be demanded by society from a truly dignified woman or man; for to cohabit where there is no love between husband and wife, worse still where the atmosphere has become surcharged with hate, and to foist on society children begotten and reared in an atmosphere that may crush out every noble impulse and lofty desire, besides the subtle discords of heredity that must mark their temperaments, is not merely a most pathetic blunder for the parties primarily affected, but a wrong to the race—a crime against civilization.