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Category Archives: Alienation of Affection

The Baltimore African-American, June 1, 1929. No Driving Miss Daisy headlines here at The Hope Chest, as befits a class joint what I are tryin’ to run here. Scandal continues over the jump, plus there’s a novel mutation to our fungible friend, the Unwritten Law. Read More »

Detroit News, April 29, 1931. It used to be standard practice in adultery-related divorce suits for the cheated-upon parties to sue the third party for “alienation of affections.” Essentially the seducer or seductress had robbed of them of a lifetime of lovin’, and they were entitled to cash compensation for that loss. But then it was ultimately up to a judge or jury to determine how much all that lovin’ was worth. What were the criteria? In the above case, the jury is implicitly measuring love by the pound. But there had to be hurt feelings to go around when an award came back $30K light. Even the new possessor of the runaway spouse has to feel insulted on some level, even if he or she is catching a huge financial break

But then there’s this other case to consider, from Detroit News, March 19, 1931: Read More »

slays-wife-selfa Detroit News, April 27, 1931. Somehow I would expect pheasant breeders to be a highly-strung bunch, but still . . .
Not sure whether we are meant to pick up on some coded implication of hanky-panky involving the slain wife and her bedroom guest. Calling the latter “hysterical” is a tad unfeeling, though, whatever the facts of the matter.

Chicago Tribune, November 23, 1922. I wish people simply wouldn’t do this sort of thing. And no, I don’t have access to the picture on the back page.


Chicago Tribune, August 5, 1934. Another application of the unwritten law entres femmes. Don’t know yet whether Wilma was successful in her appeal to the UL, but she’s a dark horse candidate at best for Mother of the Year.

Chicago Tribune, October 20, 1931. Further expansion of the “unwritten law” to cover serial catfight ass-kickings. Oak Park, for those who don’t know, is a tony southwestern suburb of Chicago (“a place of broad lawns and narrow minds,” in the words of its most famous native son, the celebrated gay amateur bullfighter Ernest Hemingway). I wonder if there isn’t a class-warfare angle to this little rhubarb. The $50,000 alienation suit kinda suggests that Mrs. Yonan saw her Oak Park rival as someone with deep pockets.

Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1908. Interesting attempt on the part of the prosecutor to use nativist prejudice against alien foodstuffs as a hedge against the “unwritten law.” Hard to figure out exactly what’s going on here relationship-wise though: was there a rape or seduction? Or did Ferreo simply sell Mr. Anselone on the notion that his wife was no good to improve his prospects with Angelina?

Also, I wonder if Ferreo’s epitaph–“Died In Self-Defense”–made better sense in Italian. More on the disposition of the case after the jump. Read More »

Peoria Transcript, May 31, 1925. Another editorial on the unwritten law, published 56 years after the previous one, with a lovely little paragraph addressing the expansion of its privilege over time. Seems like the UL didn’t play in Peoria by 1925. But if that joke at the bottom did, you can see where Peoria got its reputation among vaudevillians as the national baseline of cultural

New-York Tribune, June 3, 1869. The soi-disant unwritten law (which we were talking about a few posts back) got written about a lot. I’ve run across some entertainingly bananas editorials on the subject. Dunno anything about this Canadian precedent, but it’s nice to know that libertines were fair game in the Great White North(s) as well. And how wonderful too to see the racial nuances of the UL so forthrightly addressed by our editorialist.

The notion of men acting as murderous proxies for women too timid to pull the trigger is an interesting ideological fig leaf. The UL was brought into being by angry husbands defending their patriarchal prerogatives. But it sounds much nicer from a late-Victorian perspective if you position the killing as a gallant gesture on the wronged woman’s behalf. Plus it papers over the disturbing possibility that the wife would rather see her husband than her lover dead.

Anyway, if the woman remains the primary avenger even when her male proxy pulls the trigger, she’s operating at a level of agency hard to reconcile with premises underlying patriarchal stewardship over ye weaker sex. If women can order hits, by what right can they be denied the vote? Read More »

Detroit News, April 11, 1931. Case closed. But this is rank sexism and ageism. Had Mrs. Thomsen and Mrs. Dilley been men fighting over a woman, Frances Thomsen might have been able to stand trial and win acquittal courtesy of the “unwritten law,” whose simple precept was “The libertine must die!” In the 19th century, American juries took it as a given that husbands, fathers and brothers were justified in killing a man who had been sexually intimate with their wives, daughters or sisters, and would nullify charges accordingly. The unwritten law was becoming a bit of a back number after the turn of the century, but there were still instances of its application in the 1920s and ’30s. I’m sure an example will pop up on this blog sooner or later.
Women could also benefit from the unwritten law when facing trial for killing their seducers, but as far as I know no woman ever successfully used it to get away with killing their husband’s mistress. Turns out I was wrong on that last count. The unwritten law goes through all kindsa wacky changes toward the end of its tenure. More on that later.