by Ann Parker, guest blogger
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First, I’d like to thank Poe’s Deadly Daughters for the opportunity to post here as part of my virtual tour for Mercury's Rise, the latest in my Silver Rush historical mystery series, which is based in 1880s Colorado.
Second, I’d like to sing the praises of reference librarians and subject matter experts! Many’s the time I’ve hunted for specific information on a subject, only to be left howling in the vastness of the internet. Well, maybe not many times, but often enough to become very frustrated with certain topics.
Such as divorce.
Particularly, divorce in the nineteenth century U.S.
Specifically, divorce in 1880 in Colorado.
I have collected plenty of books that touch on or deal directly with the general topic, including Robert L. Griwsold’s Family and Divorce in California, 1850–1890; Thomas J. Schlereth’s Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life; Ellen K. Rothman’s Hands and Hearts: A History of Courtship in America; Glenda Riley’s Divorce: An American Tradition and her Building and Breaking Families in the American West; as well as Ruth Rymer Miller’s PhD thesis Alimony and Divorce: An Historical-Comparative Study of Gender Conflict. I even haunted the law library in Denver some years ago and made copies of things like the Code of Civil Procedure and Session Laws of Colorado, 1879 (when there were changes to codes) and… and…
What the heck was I doing?? I’m no lawyer! Not even close! How do I interpret this stuff?
Plus, I was getting nervous about the particulars of "my case," that is, the case of my protagonist, Inez Stannert. Inez’s husband has been missing for well over a year. During this time, she remakes her life. She takes a lover. She runs a saloon with her husband’s business partner, and she runs it very well, and begins making other business deals "on the side." She sends her young son, not quite two, back East to live with her sister. Inez decides to divorce her vanished husband, grounds of desertion. In Mercury's Rise, her carefully laid plans are swept aside, as if no more substantial than as a house of cards, when her husband, Mark Stannert, returns.
I sat, surrounded by my books and references, staring at my computer, wondering: What now?
What would Inez’s lawyer advise? What would Inez think, feel? What would Mark do? What would happen to their child, their business, her reputation, her relationship with her lover, Reverend Sands.
It was at this point, while at the Malice Domestic conference, that I bid on (and won) a few hours of research assistance from research librarian Jeanne Munn Bracken (http://www.jeannemunnbracken.com/). I confessed my concerns about Inez and her future, and Jeanne put me in touch with Hendrik Hartog, Bicentennial Professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University, and Michael Grossberg, Sally M. Reahard Professor of History and Professor of Law at Indiana University. I was so relieved to find experts… experts at last!... who were willing to listen to and answer my questions. They agreed that the key issue was "fault," which would have to be central in any depiction of a couple going through a divorce during this time. Professor Grossberg added that, by the 1880s or so, maternal preference dominated the law and thus there would be a legal presumption in favor of giving custody to a mother. But that also meant that attacks on a woman’s character, virtue, parenting skills, and the like could be part of a bitter divorce.
Attacks on the wife’s virtue, you say? Her character? Parenting skills? Hmmmmm. The wheels in my mind began to turn….
Professor Hartog agreed with his colleague, adding, "In general most mothers of young children would get custody, but the claim had to be framed in terms of the misbehavior/abandonment of the husband. And misbehavior (which might be little more than having a job or choosing a different or no church to go to) by the wife might be enough to ensure her loss of custody, even of a child/infant of tender years."
As for Inez’s financial situation and business dealings, now that Mark has returned… I won’t say too much except to report Professor Hartog’s summation: "A tangled mess."
All in all, I owe much to researcher Jeanne and professors Hartog and Grossberg. The professors gave me some wonderful fodder for fiction, plus I added their excellent books to my tower of references: Hartog’s Man and Wife in America: A History, and Grossberg’s Governing the Hearth: Law and the Family in Nineteenth-Century America.
Thus fortified, I was able to move forward at last, to plot and scheme poor Inez’s situation for Mercury's Rise and look into her future with something more certain than a crystal ball!
Ann Parker is a California-based science/corporate writer by day and an historical mystery writer by night. Her award-winning Silver Rush series, featuring saloon-owner Inez Stannert, is set in 1880s Colorado, primarily in the silver-mining boomtown of Leadville. The latest in her series, Mercury's Rise, was released November 1. Publishers Weekly says, "Parker smoothly mixes the personal dramas and the detection in an installment that’s an easy jumping-on point for newcomers." Library Journal adds, "Parker’s depth of knowledge coupled with an all-too-human cast leaves us eager to see what Inez will do next. Encore!
Learn more about Ann and her books at http://www.annparker.net.
Leave a comment on this post to be eligible to win a Silver Rush mystery prize! Winner will be announced later this week. To see the rest of Ann’s blog tour, check out her News page.