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The Justice of Frontier Divorce

By Amber Chapin

In early American history divorce was practically unheard of. The divorce rate began to increase steadily in the mid-eighteenth century with the reform of divorce laws. Still, the adoption of progressive divorce laws remained slow nationally, eventually coming under federal jurisdiction with Haddock v. Haddock in 1906, when the state of New York refused to recognize a divorce granted by Connecticut. In the case of Maynard v. Hill the Supreme Court maintained “marriage was considered the most important relation in life…having more to do with the morals and civilization of a people than any other institution.” Examination of divorce records from the 1860s provides insight into both the institution of marriage and the circumstances of divorce during a period when divorce rates accelerated, yet divorce remained uncommon. This project provides insight into the circumstances surrounding divorce in Walla Walla County in the 1860s. The essay, case summaries, and available transcriptions utilize divorce testimony from the Frontier Justice records of Washington Territory, available through the Washington State Archives. Examination of the documents is intended to establish greater understanding of the reasons for divorce, as well as custody, property and alimony decisions of the court.

Essay

The Justice of Frontier Divorce”: this essay examines the causes and circumstances of divorce in Walla Walla County during the 1860s.

Documents and Document Summaries

These summaries, transcriptions, and image files of original cases provide an overview of divorce patterns in frontier Walla Walla. The link above leads to summaries of twenty divorce records, all of which link to image files of the original cases, and ten of which link also to full or partial transcriptions. The summaries include such information as divorce filing and finalization dates, the major reasons for the divorce, as well as surrounding circumstances and general details concerning custody, property, and alimony when available.