Intolerance seems to be rearing its ugly head more now that Donald Trump is President. Intolerant people seem emboldened by Trump’s tolerance — even embrace — of intolerance. I grew up hearing a family story that illustrates an early twentieth-century version of prejudice and rigidity. The price the family paid for it was huge.

A young cousin named Adele was married off to an older man who had a decent job and could take care of her financially. He was considered ‘a good catch’ but Adele hated him. He was mean to her and often brutal. He raped her regularly.

Family members from my grandmother’s side of the family, early 1900’s

She had a child with him, but he continued to abuse her. Adele went to many family members and asked them if they would please take her in if she left her brute of a husband. The family was shocked. Divorce was not considered acceptable under any circumstances. It would bring shame and dishonor on the entire family. So the family sent Adele back home.

After the second child, Adele got more desperate. This time she cried and pleaded with everyone who would listen to her in the family. She begged to be taken in so she could get away from her hellish life.

Some of the men on my grandfather’s side of the family, around 1915

No one in the family would risk the scandal a divorce would cause. Everyone told her to just make the best of it like many other unhappily married couples did.

Adele had a third child. This baby was my cousin, Eunice, who was my mom’s age. One day, Adele took Eunice to the park in her baby carriage. She parked the carriage on a bridge over a river. She removed her wedding ring and placed it in the carriage next to the baby. Then she jumped into the river and drowned herself.

Large group of Mom’s family, from both sides, in 1945

If only the people around Adele could have looked at her individual situation with common sense and humanity. People stuck in horrible marriages, before divorce became socially unacceptable, just like people stuck in the closet, burdened with unwanted children, or having the wrong genitalia.

It is never fair or compassionate to apply rigid rules to people’s lives. There’s enough pain in the world we can’t avoid. We shouldn’t create additional categories of angst by refusing to accept people as they are.

Acknowledging everyone’s unique needs will make the world a better place for everyone.

Categories: Ellin Curley, Family, manners & civility, Marriage, old photograph, Photography, Racism and Bigotry, Relationships

Tags: , , , , , , ,

12 replies

  1. In about 1936 or 7 my grandmother divorced my grandfather. Grandfather (from tales told by my mother and aunties) was a drunken womanizing lout, who abused his wife and daughters. In Utah in 1930 whatever, one did NOT divorce. For many of the reasons you gave in your tale. But Grandma was determined and the midnight butcher knife scenario (he came home drunk and chased his family out into the street with a butcher knife) was the final straw. And yes my grandmother did suffer social ostracization, public snubbing, and was near ex-communicated from the LDS Church. This subsequent treatment made her into a man-hating harridan. Her daughters learned to despise men, to disrespect them and were raised to think no man was going to ever be good enough for them. It’s led to a couple of generations now of social problems within my family because of this unfortunate trait. In my opinion therefore, sometimes it’s hard to tell which fate is worse…a bullying tyrant who rapes and beats you or being cut off from ‘polite’ society because you dared to take a stand. Both are horrible choices.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This stuff reminds me why I feel this business right now needs to have parameters. There’s abuse and then there’s annoyance. Because someone leers at you doesn’t make them an abuser — or make harassment. Men and women can get on each others nerves, but there IS a difference between rape, assault and abuse. Someone somewhere needs to define what’s what because this ‘anything goes’ atmosphere is going to be self-defeating in the end. We know what abuse is and we know what it’s not.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Emb,it’s profoundly sad that we have so many similar family stories. My nostalgia streak never forgets the dark at the top of the stairs.


  2. You are so right, Ellin. We almost lost our older daughter and granddaughter to such a situation. We are supporters of women’s shelters who took them in during their crisis.


    • Oh my God! That sounds terrible Leslie! Did the abuser stalk them or try to get at them? Did your daughter make a clean break and start over? How terrifying. I have a friend whose grandmother was shot and killed when she tried to leave an abusive boyfriend. I guess your daughter was lucky, and smart to get help.

      Liked by 2 people

      • It was her husband and he was Phd. graduate of Physics from M.I.T. He was a genius, with an alcohol problem and he was bi-polar as well. To top it off he had a gun. When they left he took the gun to his head. The plan was to take them too.


      • Ellin, I did countless stories about similiar “domestic” scenarios. It was back when Police looked the other way, treated women dismissively and told us to not stir the pot. I always stirred the pot and got into heated relationships with police, lawyers and even some judges. People told me their stories, implicitly trusting me. It was a matter of, yes, doing the right thing.


  3. Many women are murdered by their abusers. It isn’t rare, either. Even today, many people fail to take serious note of abuse at home. They think it’ll all work out. It doesn’t.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I don’t think abuse was even a concept in Adele’s time. Husbands could do what they wanted and some women got unlucky. I was told I was an abused spouse by mental health professionals and I laughed at them. My situation was different. They just didn’t understand. So there’s the denial end of the spectrum as well.


      • I knew, but I also knew as you did that I had to wait until I was in a position to make a move. It took years. I got it done, but I had to wait until my aunt died and left me money to make an escape. It’s not unlike men escaping prison camps.


    • We had similar shameful secrets in our family. Uncle somebody who was discussed quietly in family gatherings. I was always told to “go away, this is grownup talk”. I’d learn more over the years. Horrible and shameful. Definitely factored into my sensibilities about how women should be treated. I absolutely hated some of the old “Island values”about man as “the king” and woman as “the person who does her man’s bidding without recourse”.

      I remember discussing this with family elders during a visit back to St. Thomas as a 20 something. Some relatives looked at me as if I was a stranger with two heads. Very, very sad and illuminating.


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