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Divorcing Socialists: Urban Divorce Culture and Danish Socialists in Chicago, 1876-1881

Tina Langholm Larsen

Abstract

The surge in late-nineteenth century American divorce rates, particularly among the working class, has since then perplexed scholars. This study argues that understanding this phenomenon requires a multifaceted approach, considering both the urban context and various intersecting factors such as gender, ethnicity, class, and race. By focusing on the 1881 divorce trial of Paul and Johanne Geleff in Chicago, this article explores the influence of new social environments on the adoption of a burgeoning divorce culture, beyond transnationally transmitted values. Utilizing both qualitative and quantitative data, the analysis examines the intersectionality of social categories, arguing that urban living conditions, combined with class and racial, gender, and ethnic dynamics, contributed to the high divorce rates in urban America. By situating the Geleff divorce within the broader context of Scandinavian American historiography and labor movements, this article provides a nuanced understanding of the socio-economic and cultural factors driving late-nineteenth-century divorces. Ultimately, it demonstrates that the rise in divorces was a complex social phenomenon influenced by an interplay of diverse factors in both private and public spheres.

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1. Introduction

  • 1 US Bureau of the Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 2 vols., vol. 1, Special reports: Marriag (...)
  • 2 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1; Thomas P. Monahan, "Divorce by Occupational Level," Mar (...)

1Family breakdowns and crises, which not only caused affliction and despair among the involved parties, but also challenged understandings of public morality and the social order of society, became of great concern to both the American public and the federal government in the late nineteenth century. Within only a few decades, the US witnessed a surge in divorces that more than doubled the divorce rate and made marital dissolution more prevalent in the US than anywhere else in the world.1 Puzzled by this development and, in particular, the fact that the prevalence of working-class divorce has remained disproportionately high ever since, scholars have, for decades, studied quantitative data in search of an explanation for the continuous rise in US divorce rates.2 While some studies have singled out individual factors as key contributors to the fragility of American marriages, e.g., the liberalization of divorce legislation, (im)migration, industrialization, urbanization, and changing family patterns, scholars have generally been hesitant, or even reluctant, to draw any final conclusions based on their—often insufficient—figures. This means that although the statistical data has, for decades, raised such important questions as ‘How did ethnicity, religion, and class influence American divorce rates?’ and ‘Why was urban America a hotbed for divorces?’ these questions have yet to be answered.

2Approaching the subject from a qualitative angle, this study argues that the late-nineteenth century surge in divorces cannot be understood by pointing out a single explanatory factor; instead, it is necessary to take several—often intersecting—factors pertaining to the identities of the divorcing partners and their contextual circumstances into consideration. The article’s analysis exemplifies this argument as it uses a single divorce case as a point of entry into the experiences of a divorcing immigrant couple in late-nineteenth century Chicago, after which it employs the above-mentioned quantitative data on US divorces to expand, contextualize, and add nuance to the discussion of how gender, ethnicity, class, and urbanity intersected in American divorces, in both private and public spheres. In doing so, the article seeks to offer an answer to these unanswered questions.

  • 3 H. Arnold Barton, A folk divided: homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940, Acta Universita (...)
  • 4 Jon Gjerde, The minds of the West: Ethnocultural evolution in the rural Middle West, 1830-1917 (Cha (...)

3Qualitative studies of Scandinavian immigrant culture in the US, including my own previous work, find that the transfer of ‘Old-World’ values to the ‘New World,’ despite some degree of adjustment, was formative for the identification and lifestyle choices of European immigrants,3 applying also to their marriage and divorce patterns.4 Consciously or not, immigrants tended to bring along with them ethnically defined conceptions of gendered norms and marital behavior that defined their family life in the US, this research suggests. With this article, however, I challenge such argumentation. Influenced by their new social and geographical context, immigrants, at least to some degree, adopted the new divorce culture that emerged among urban dwellers, this study finds, and I argue that urbanity should be ascribed a crucial role in American divorce culture that cannot be explained one-dimensionally through the lens of transnationally transmitted values alone. On that basis, I propose that to adequately understand the growth of late-nineteenth century American divorces, we must approach divorce as a social phenomenon shaped not only by interrelated and intersecting factors such as gender, ethnicity, and class, but also by the context in which it was located.

  • 5 The divorce proceedings include a petition letter, a transcription of the court interrogations, som (...)
  • 6 Geleff, Brix, and Pio are today praised as the founding fathers of the Danish Social Democratic Par (...)

4Placed at the center of this article is the divorce between Paul Johansen Geleff (1842-1928) and Johanne Marion Juliane Geleff (née Ertberg, 1854-1911) as presented in the Superior Court of Cook County, Chicago, IL, in the spring of 1881.5 Since Paul Geleff played a key role in the history of the Danish labor movement6 and Scandinavian American socialism, this precise divorce case offers a window not only into the lived experiences of divorce, but also into the structural challenges European socialists faced as they sought to transplant their visions of human equality, women’s rights, equal property distribution, etc. to America. The Geleff v. Geleff divorce trial thus provides a privileged case for understanding both how new developments sparked a surge in late-nineteenth century divorces and how this upheaval of the old social order prompted social inequalities addressed by the socialist movements.

  • 7 Larsen, "Preserving the Dane: Danish People’s Society and the negotiation of Danish ethnicity in Am (...)
  • 8 See e.g., Erika K. Jackson, Scandinavians in Chicago: the origins of white privilege in modern Amer (...)
  • 9 In this study, I use class as a term that primarily concerns socioeconomical status, although class (...)

5As such, this article sets out to contribute to the Scandinavian American historiography that, for more than a century, has engaged with Scandinavian immigration to America. While existing Scandinavian American scholarship has focused primarily on the (male) Scandinavian pioneers who settled in the rural Midwest and, through agricultural toiling and religious engagement, contributed to laying part of the foundation of America,7 this study moves away from the rural Midwest into the urban arena of Chicago, which was home to a dramatically growing number of native- and foreign-born laborers—and their divorce cases—in the last decades of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the article seeks to advance scholarship on Scandinavian American immigration that has, more recently, brought attention to race via nuanced analyses of Scandinavian immigrants’ privileged integration into white American society.8 But instead of using race as a single-axis explanatory factor, this study foregrounds an intersectional approach attentive to the multiple factors influencing the climbing rate of working-class divorces.9

  • 10 Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, Key Concepts, (Cambridge: Polity, 2016); (...)
  • 11 Ashleigh E. McKinzie and Patricia L. Richards, "An argument for context-driven intersectionality," (...)

6Intersectionality, though not coined as an analytical concept until 1991 by Kimberlé Crenshaw, has, since the 1960s, encouraged scholars to examine how the convergence of different systems of power affects social behavior and resource distribution as it creates inequal societal structures, either privileging or oppressing individuals and groups.10 Broadly speaking, intersectional scholarship asserts that social categories such as race, class, and gender are mutually constitutive and generate historically contingent and culturally specific structural (dis)advantages that impact all levels of society, from people’s individual lives to the organization of society as a whole. Based on this assumption, intersectionality rejects the analytical separability of such categories.11

  • 12 By examining the Geleff divorce case, I follow Christensen and Jensen’s advice to conduct intersect (...)
  • 13 Jackson, Scandinavians in Chicago: the origins of white privilege in modern America, 1ff; Brøndal, (...)

7Seeking to conduct an intersectional exploration of the Geleff divorce trial,12 this analysis explores the different but interrelated ways in which urbanity, class, gender, race, and ethnicity influenced the juridical, economic, and social structures of American society in the late nineteenth century. By focusing specifically on working-class Scandinavians, the analysis concerns the majority of the late-nineteenth century Scandinavian immigrants, who, in combination with transnational migrants of other ethnic backgrounds, American-born migrants from rural areas, and formerly enslaved people from the South, formed a growing socioeconomic group of Chicagoans. In this historical period, shortly after the legal end of slavery, racial segregation and discrimination were inherent aspects of the country’s as well as the city’s social fabric, placing the Scandinavians at the top of the American pseudoscientific racial hierarchy and thus allowing them to enjoy the social privileges of their whiteness.13 The following analysis, attentive to such historically specific structures and intersections between class, gender, race, and ethnicity, concludes that the urban milieu created fertile soil for a distinct divorce culture, changing the habits of especially the white working-class native- and foreign-born migrants taking up settlement in Chicago, thereby contributing to making urban America a hotbed for divorces.

2. Feminist Socialism in the Old and New World

  • 14 E. Wiinblad and Alsing Andersen, Det danske Socialdemokratis Historie fra 1871 til 1921: Festskrift (...)
  • 15 Povl Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv (København: C. Hørdum, 1877), 9.

8As a socialist agitator and co-founder of the Danish labor movement, Paul Geleff, in collaboration with Louis Pio and Harald Brix, played a key role in the quick spread of socialist visions to Danish provinces and their incorporation into the First International in 1871.14 Yet due to their dream of a socialist revolution, emancipating laborers and creating solidarity across traditional gender, race, and class divides, the Danish socialist leadership was imprisoned in 1872. In the eyes of the leading Danish politicians, they remained a threat to the social order of Danish society after their release, and in the mid-1870s, they were again intimidated by the Danish police force that wanted them to disappear from the Danish public either by imprisonment or emigration.15

  • 16 "“Internationale” i Kjøbenhavn," Slagelse-Posten, October 17 1872; "Om Betingelserne for Kvindens F (...)
  • 17 Zillah Eisenstein, "An Alert: Capital is Intersectional; Radicalizing Piketty’s Inequality," The Fe (...)

9At that time, two of the most vocal socialist women in Denmark, Augusta Jørgensen and Jaquette Liljencrantz, had for years drawn inspiration from white American women’s rights advocates in their attempt to overturn the patriarchal structures of Danish society. America, with its constitutionally-protected rights secured primarily, if not exclusively, for the country’s white population, was, to them, an ideal place for the socialist movement to propagate its visions, and they gradually convinced their male comrades of its significance. What they found in the US were feminist socialists concerned with the intersection of gender and class that gave rise to structural disadvantages for white working-class women.16 Accordingly, Jørgensen and Liljencrantz considered opposition to the patriarchal structures in Danish society a natural facet of the labor movement, and as such, they established what political scientist Zillah Eisenstein has more recently argued; namely, that economic inequality cannot be understood adequately through the lens of class alone: “Capital is intersectional. It always intersects with the bodies that produce the labor.”17

  • 18 Cari M. Carpenter, "Introduction," in Selected Writings of Victoria Woodhull, Suffrage, Free Love, (...)
  • 19 Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, "Victoria Woodhull, Anthony Comstock, and Conflict over Sex in the United (...)

10In the US, feminist socialists like the spiritualist Victoria Woodhull similarly insisted that feminism and socialism had aims and values in common. Like other high-profile, white feminist- and socialist-minded women, e.g., Margaret Sanger, Mary Elizabeth Lease, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, Woodhull had experienced a socially stigmatizing divorce, after which she committed herself to the ‘free love’ movement. In this movement, Woodhull found a place to fight for women’s rights to marry, divorce, and bear children freely, without social restrictions or government interference. Interpreting the concept of free love within the framework of a monogamous relationship,18 Woodhull thus distinguished ‘free love’ from ‘free lust,’ whereas other ‘free lovers’ such as Netta Eames practiced open marriages and became a representative of the more promiscuous branch of the movement that anti-socialists frequently attacked.19 Regardless of their different interpretations of the concept, these women commonly believed in uncompromised personal freedom for both women and men, which resonated well with the Danish feminist socialists.

  • 20 Pio and Jørgensen eventually married in 1878. Rasmussen convincingly argues that their marriage was (...)
  • 21 "“Internationale” i Kjøbenhavn."; "Internationale," Isefjordsposten, October 3 1872; Augusta Jørgen (...)
  • 22 "Et Foredrag om Kvindesagen," Social-Demokraten, September 15, 1886. The lecture was given during A (...)

11In 1872, the same year that Victoria Woodhull became the first woman to run for US president, the then-19-year-old Augusta Jørgensen, who eventually married Louis Pio,20 publicly lectured on “The Woman Question, from a Socialist Perspective” in Copenhagen.21 The lecture focused on the destitution of the laboring woman, who, she asserted, had only four lifestyle options: She could 1) lead a working life “in want and misery,” 2) prostitute herself, 3) enter “the most terrible of all terrible institutions,” that is, marriage, or 4) commit suicide. Of these options, the latter “should perhaps be preferred,” Jørgensen proclaimed. Later in life, she sharpened this argument by stating that: “the woman question is inextricably linked with the labor question, for that is an economic question.”22

  • 23 Medea, "Det frie Ægteskab," Social-Demokraten, March 5 1876.
  • 24 For discussions and and critique of this analogy, see Nelson Manfred Blake, The road to Reno: A his (...)

12Preoccupied with the institutionalization of the structural oppression of women in Danish society, Jaquette Liljencrantz similarly made her beliefs publicly available. In the official socialist newspaper Social-Demokraten, she called for gender-equal access to public positions and suffrage and advocated an implementation of “free matrimony” that allowed an easy untying of the marital bond that “would otherwise be heavier than the chain of a slave” to most women.23 This highly controversial comparison, framing slavery as analogue to marriage and thereby grossly understating the personal and juridical consequences of slavery as an institution, was used rethorically by European as well as American feminists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucy Stone to position personal freedom and emancipation through divorce as the antithesis of the legal constraints and oppression of marriage. The usage of this analogy, completely lacking recognition and awareness of the racial injustices in American society, attests to the race and class privileges these northern American and northern European women enjoyed.24

  • 25 "Medens Socialisternes Udsending, Hr. P. Geleff," Fædrelandet, November 15 1871.
  • 26 Cited in Oluf Bertolt, Pionerer: Mændene fra Halvfjerdsernes Arbejderbevægelse (Copenhagen: Fremad, (...)

13According to Jørgensen and Liljencrantz, marriage epitomized the patriarchal power in society. On the other hand, neither Louis Pio nor Paul Geleff had as strong convictions about the institution of marriage, and none of them initially supported First International’s wish to abolish marriage. While Geleff dismissed the idea in all respects,25 Pio was a proponent of free love in the sense of the concept represented by Woodhull and he wished “to transform marriage from an immoral, blasphemous institution into a voluntary, noble, and beautiful relationship between man and woman.”26 American ideas about gender, marriage and enslavement evidently impacted the Danish socialists, but the degree of impact reflected their whiteness and depended on their own gender.

  • 27 Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, The Working class in American history, (Urb (...)
  • 28 Poul Geleff, Randers, den 19. Januar. Kære Borger Karl Marx [Randers, January 19th. Dear Citizen Ka (...)
  • 29 Cited in Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, 11-12.
  • 30 Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, xiv.
  • 31 Antje Schrupp, "Bringing Together Feminism and Socialism in the First International: Four Examples, (...)
  • 32 Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920; Schrupp, "Bringing Together Feminism and Socialism (...)

14Interestingly, this gendered divide in views of marriage among the Danish socialists mirrors a racial and ethnic divide of which the latter has been identified by historian Marie Jo Buhle in the American socialist movement, where European immigrants tended to give voice to more conservative and patriarchal values than their American-born, white peers.27 The native-born American socialist women, who had quickly joined the otherwise male-dominated American section of First International (1864-72) and called for women’s emancipation, were a source of inspiration for Jørgensen and Liljencrantz, whereas Geleff and Pio primarily oriented themselves toward the political theorist and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx,28 who, based on the assumption that the American-born feminist socialists prioritized the woman question over the labor question, recommended that they were expelled from First International. According to Marx, “women should have begun by driving their men to self-emancipation” instead of “seeking emancipation for themselves directly.”29 Working men’s emancipation prevailed over women’s rights in the eyes of Marx, who saw the white, activist women as middle-class adventurists,30 which has provoked political scientist Antje Schrupp to label the First International an “anti-feminist” organization.31 While Buhle rightly points out an ethnic line of division in the American labor movement, distinguishing the American-born socialists from the foreign-born ones on the basis of values, she oversees that also gender constituted a crucial identity category creating a line of demarcation within American socialism. To understand why the socialist movement in the US was driven in different directions depending on the profile of its proponents, it is important not to treat identity categories such as gender, race, and ethnicity separately, but to apply an intersectional perspective attentive to their convergences, which ultimately subdivided and even fractioned the movement.32

  • 33 See §2 in Program og Love for det Socialdemokratiske Arbejderparti, (Copenhagen: Hovedbestyrelsens (...)

15The gendered tension in the Danish socialist movement eventually vanished, though, to which the first national congress held by the Social Democratic Workers Party in 1876 attests.33 Here, Danish socialists decided to make human equality regardless of class and gender differences (race was not mentioned) a proclaimed aim of their party—a utopian aim the socialist leadership hoped to materialize in Kansas, USA.

3. Transplanting Old World Socialism to the New World

  • 34 The couple married in April and Ejnar was born in May 1876, see https://link-lives.dk/soeg/pa/12-12 (...)
  • 35 Bertolt, Pionerer: Mændene fra Halvfjerdsernes Arbejderbevægelse, 202; "Socialistisk Udvandring," R (...)
  • 36 Louis Pio et al., "Indbydelse Til Deltagelse i Oprettelsen af en Koloni i Nord-Amerika [Invitation (...)
  • 37 For examples of Danish settler colonization in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Jeppe (...)

16In July 1876, shortly after the marriage between Paul and Johanne Geleff and the birth of their son Ejnar,34 Paul was assigned the task to investigate whether emigration to the US was a viable solution to the growing number of unemployed workers in Denmark.35 As he returned with a confirmative answer, the party leadership, now highly aware of the Danish state’s willingness to crush any socialist endeavor, decided to establish a colony in Kansas aiming to “exemplify the practical feasibility and beneficial effects” of socialism.36 Settler colonization on land belonging to indigenous peoples, stripping them of their rights and cultures, was as this point becoming popular among Danish immigrants just as it had been to other white, European ethnic groups since the sixteenth century.37 Potential colonists had to acknowledge socialist principles, including a collective responsibility

  • 38 Louis Pio et al., "Indbydelse Til Deltagelse i Oprettelsen af en Koloni i Nord-Amerika [Invitation (...)

to bring up the children when the parents do not want to do so themselves; the eased solubility of marriage; communal cultivation of the real estate; commissions apportioning necessary work, women's equality in society, and relief to persons unfit for work.38

  • 39 Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv.
  • 40 Information extracted from Ancestry.com: Year: 1877; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Se (...)

17In accordance with the party’s aim to further human equality, the socialist project was designed to recast the social structures of modern society. But, tellingly, racial injustices were again not mentioned in the party’s colonization plan. Informed about the socialist leadership’s American dream, the Danish police successfully bribed first Pio and then Geleff to leave their home country.39 In March 1877, the same year that American railroad laborers went on strike across the country after another pay cut, Paul Geleff (28 years old) and Louis Pio (32), their respective partners, Johanne (23) and Augusta (23), and children, Ejnar (1) and Sylvia (1), emigrated to the US.40

  • 41 Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv, 15.
  • 42 "Den Danske Socialistiske Koloni i Kansas," Thisted Amtsavis, August 29, 1877.
  • 43 "Hr. Geleff," Bornholms Avis, May 29 1877.

18Paul never went to Kansas, though. By accident, he realized that Pio had deceived him in regard to the size of the bribe of which Pio’s share was significantly larger than his own, and consequently he decided to turn his back on both Pio and the Kansas experiment.41 In Kansas, the colony project proved as fragile as the companionship between the two socialist leaders: The utopian project was given up after only six weeks, leaving no other traces on the Kansas prairieland than a hole in the ground, as a Danish newspaper mockingly reported.42 By the end of May, both Pio and Paul had settled in Chicago, yet they presumably never spoke to each other again.43

  • 44 Information extracted from: Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 199; Pa (...)
  • 45 Th. Graae, "Danske i Amerika. N.C. Frederiksen," Nutiden, Feb 12 1888; Th. Graae, "Danske i Amerika (...)
  • 46 Rasmussen, Pio - Flugten til Amerika.
  • 47 "Cedar Falls og Omegn," Dannevirke, October 31 1888; "Danmark," Dannevirke, August 31 1887.
  • 48 Povl Geleff, "Et Hjertesuk," Den Danske Pioneer, February 21 1895.

19Johanne and Paul have left behind only few records of their lives in Chicago, providing us with very sparse information about their social lives and connections. Yet we do know that they lived as boarders, first in Clark Street and then in Kinzie Street, where Johanne was “keeping house” while Paul sought to make the most of his linguistic familiarity with the Scandinavian and German languages as he resumed his journalistic career.44 He became a traveling land agent for a railway company advertising farmland among immigrants in the saloons around the Haymarket Square, and at the time of his divorce, he was occupied with the prairieland of Iowa.45 While Pio became a leading figure in a local subdivision of the powerful labor union The Knights of Labor and remained politically active—and married—after his arrival in Chicago,46 Paul only sporadically engaged himself in political affairs. Aside from his employment in the publishing and land sale industries, he temporarily, after the divorce, joined the labor force and spoke at a voter meeting, encouraging his listeners to vote for democratic candidates, who were, at least in the larger cities, known for supporting especially the white working class.47 In an article by Paul from 1895, looking back at his life and career, he points out how his firm belief in justice and equality before the law has been a common thread in all his undertakings, past and present.48 This self-identified continuity in his viewpoints indicates that, in spite of his diminished political engagement in the US, he was motivated by the same principles that motivated him at the time of his divorce and during his socialist leadership.

4. Taking Divorce to the Court Room

  • 49 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 12.
  • 50 See e.g., Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States."; (...)
  • 51 Nancy F. Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University (...)
  • 52 Naomi Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," SS (...)

20When Paul Geleff was divorced from Johanne in 1881, the couple contributed to the upward divorce trend, amounting to 20,762 US divorces that year.49 This, however, meant neither that divorce did not exist before the development of modern America nor that divorce had by then become accessible to the entire American population.50 On the contrary, the termination of marriages was a costly legislative affair reserved for the few in most of the nineteenth century, leaving a fair share of the population with no options than to stay together or separate illegitimately. Moreover, as divorce was considered a disturbance of the social order, splitting up a marriage often ruined the reputation of otherwise well-renowned families. Yet, this societal framework of divorce was not static. American law and civil society established a mutually formative relationship, ensuring congruity between the legal and social norms, Cott explains: “Law and society stand in a circular relation: social demands put pressure on legal practices, while at the same time the law’s public authority frames what people can envision for themselves and can conceivably demand.”51 As divorce was increasingly wanted in the second half of the nineteenth century, a liberalization of divorce law was accordingly enforced, simultaneously making the rupture of matrimonial ties more socially acceptable.52

  • 53 Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation, 1-2; Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husba (...)

21Even so, marriage was still considered a permanent institution juridically. The dissolution of the bonds of matrimony was, therefore, only attainable in the case of fault, requiring that a divorce-seeker could prove that his/her spouse had broken their marital contract—a contract in which both spouses had consented to terms set by the state. Hence, marital offense was as much a private, inter-spousal betrayal of trust as a betrayal between a spouse and the state, via which reason the latter justified public interference. This enmeshment of marriage and divorce in the public order was, primarily, a result of the First Amendment, which prohibited the government from establishing a state church, engendered the fact that marriage—despite its Judeo-Christian roots—became a civil in addition to a religious status. Thus, both the tying and untying of a matrimonial bond required public acceptance and, ideally, privacy was only safeguarded in the well-functioning marriage that maintained the existing social order.53

4.1 The Geleff v. Geleff Divorce Trial

  • 54 The analysis builds on the divorce proceedings, see Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).
  • 55 Vald. Pedersen, Xylograf F. Hendriksen 1847-1938, Foreningen for Boghaandværks publikation, (Københ (...)
  • 56 At this time, absolute judicial divorce was the only authorized practice in Illinois, making all di (...)

22In February 1881, Johanne asked for public interference in her personal life as she filed for divorce.54 A second-hand source describes that it was her decision to leave Paul—a decision that deeply saddened him.55 She initiated the process with a petition letter to the Superior Court of Cook County that, in three pages, established the foundation for the divorce case.56

23As a genre, juridical documents and interrogations require a critical reading attentive to the atypical circumstances of the testimonies. On the one hand, the involved persons have given sworn testimony prior to their examinations committing them to telling the truth. On the other hand, given the fact that only fault-based divorces could be obtained, certain requirements had to be met in order to be granted a divorce. Johanne’s solicitor presumably informed her about these requirements—information that must have affected her petition letter and testimony, it is argued in the following.

  • 57 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 25.
  • 58 Norma Basch, Framing American divorce: from the revolutionary generation to the Victorians (Berkele (...)

24The petition mentioned several dated examples of Paul’s marital offences, such as extreme and repeated mental and physical abuse, adultery, and a neglect of the duty to provide. This meticulous description of Paul’s violations of his marital obligations was common in the late nineteenth century, where lawyers were likely to make their clients allege as many faults as possible when petitioning for divorce.57 Based on their client’s experiences, lawyers crafted stories that not only accorded with a legal language and framework, but also were translated into moral terms recognizable to the judges. Norma Basch has fittingly described nineteenth-century fault-based divorces as framed, since the system impelled the divorce-seeker to present a narrative including “a victim (the plaintiff), a villain (the defendant), a wrongful action (the fault) and a resolution (the decree).”58

25When closely examining the narrative style of Johanne’s petition letter, a well-prepared story appears in which Paul figures as an authoritarian, inhumane, and immoral violator deliberately not fulfilling his marital obligations to perform as the protector of his household. This behavior made him “wholly unfit to be intrusted [sic!] with the care, custody, and education of said child [Ejnar],” the petition concluded. Johanne, on the other hand, had throughout the marriage conducted herself as “a chaste, dutiful, and affectionate wife.” As a fragile, innocent, and moral woman almost completely stripped of agency, Johanne portrayed herself as the victim, Paul as the villain, and the only solution to grant her a divorce and sole custody of Ejnar.

  • 59 Glenda Riley, Divorce: an American tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 49.
  • 60 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 685.

26However, Johanne did not merely frame the petition by use of this recognizable villain-victim narrative; she also ensured that the narrative complied with the norms for gendered nuptial roles. To each of the two dominant genders in the late nineteenth American society were certain expectations and obligations attached, assigning different domains of society to women and men: Whereas women were taught to view themselves as private actors occupied primarily by childrearing and housekeeping in the domestic sphere, men were taught to think of themselves as public actors engaged in the political and economic spheres.59 Marriage not only prescribed these gendered norms, but, professor of law Naomi Cahn asserts, as “a hierarchical, subordinating institution with strictly confined, and defined, roles,” marriage also safeguarded the social order.60 Johanne’s petition seemed to assume that ideal spousal behavior and compliance with these gendered roles were prerequisites for a divorce-seeker to succeed, and by reproducing the prevailing (white) gendered norms, Johanne simultaneously reinforced them.

27Johanne’s petition convinced the judge to take the case to court. The judge twice issued a chancery summons commanding the sheriff to summon Paul to appear before the court, but Paul didn’t turn up when Johanne presented her case on April 23, 1881. Was that because the marriage had been informally dissolved already? Did Paul tacitly accept Johanne’s accusations? Or did his job as a traveling land agent prevent him from showing up? Whatever the reason, the judge decided to proceed despite Paul’s absence, thereby basing the ruling solely on Johanne and her witness’s testimonies.

  • 61 See the transcription of the court interrogations in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188)

28In court, Johanne was questioned by her solicitor about the beginning and nature of Paul’s abusive behavior. “[H]aving been first duly sworn,” Johanne described how the mental and physical abuse started in the first year of their marriage, shortly before the birth of their son, repeatedly leaving her sick in bed. For example, Johanne explained how Paul once threatened her to punish Ejnar for her depressive state of mind. He told her “that if I [Johanne] wanted to hang myself he would get me a rope, and if I did that he would send my boy among strangers.”61 This incident confirmed the narrative style of the petition, as it positioned Johanne and Paul as the two extremes in a moral spectrum: Johanne’s motherly affection made her weak, vulnerable, and apparently lacking agency, which Paul, as an allegedly inhume violator, took advantage of.

  • 62 Ibid.

29Johanne’s failing health formed a common thread in the examination of both her and her witness, Dr. Charles Edward Voegler, a doctor who had previously diagnosed her with “female disease.”62 Johanne’s illness was triggered by Paul’s abusive behavior, Voegler explained:

  • 63 Ibid.

the influence of her husband was very bad, if she was not terribly abused, she was all right, she is bright and lively naturally. If she gets abused then she gets very excited, then she has spasms as are dangerous of her life. She has been several times in such a condition that I thought every moment she was dead.63

  • 64 Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th century America (...)

30In fact, Voegler had treated Johanne so often that he had welcomed her into his family on several occasions. Being diagnosed with mental illness was in no ways advantageous for a nineteenth-century woman, but it offered her an “escape” from the gendered obligations put onto her, gender historian Carroll Smith-Rosenberg contends.64 Johanne’s testimony suggests that this also applied to her: She repeatedly suffered from anxiety and spasms, spent a lot of time in bed, and moved into the doctor’s home at one point—things that made her unable to perform her marital duties, not least if her relationship to Voegler was not completely platonic but in fact extramarital. The judge never addressed their personal relationship or asked about adultery of her behalf, however. Johanne’s testimony overall accentuated her ideal spousal behavior, showing no willingness to make any deviations that potentially disturbed the stylized narrative casting her as an ideal wife and mother.

4.2 The Verdict

  • 65 See the divorce decree in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).

31A week later, on April 30, the judge issued a divorce decree stating that Paul was found “guilty of extreme and repeated cruelty,” and that Johanne was now “released from the obligations of her marriage” and given “the care, custody and education of their said child.”65

  • 66 Information extracted from Ancestry.com: Illinois, U.S., Marriage Index, 1860-1920 [database on-lin (...)
  • 67 In 1883, however, Johanne divorced Fritz due to cruelty "Ten minutes for Divorce," Chicago Tribune, (...)

32Paul never denied or appealed the case, presumably because he accepted the verdict and knew that Johanne had already moved on. Only five days after the divorce, Johanne married again, this time to the Danish-born dr. med. Fritz Napoleon Engelhard.66 The swiftness with which Johanne moved from one marriage to another suggests that she already knew of Fritz, and it thus (again) raises the question of whom the adulterous party of her first marriage really was—Johanne or Paul (cf. the accusation in her petition letter)—or, perhaps, both of them. We must assume that Johanne’s second husband provided her with the money to pursue divorce from Paul, but perhaps she found the courage to do so elsewhere, e.g., in the feminist socialism that women such as Augusta Jørgensen (later Pio), whom Johanne must have known rather well, had promoted for so long. After all, Johanne seemed convinced about the socialist belief in the solubility of the institution of marriage, which she practically applied not once but twice, as she decided to divorce again after only two years of marriage to Fritz.67

  • 68 See Povl Geleff, Under Laas og Lukke (København: A. Guldbrandsen & Ko., 1876).
  • 69 Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880- (...)

33 Paul’s alleged abuse of Johanne, on the other hand, in no way complied with the ideological beliefs that he had previously advocated so fervently. As he never testified or talked about the divorce elsewhere, we do not know why he purportedly behaved as he did. We do know, however, that the emotional toll of his imprisonment in Denmark, which he vividly described afterwards,68 had a detrimental effect on his mental health that might, in combination with the toils so many immigrant families struggled with, as historian Linda Gordon suggests was generally the case among ‘Old World’ immigrants,69 have led to alcohol abuse and violent behavior. Or perhaps he had never been truly convinced about the importance of equal gender rights, as Liljencrantz suggested. An adequate explanation is most likely to be found in a combination of these different explanations.

  • 70 Jay Einhorn, "Child custody in historical perspective: A study of changing social perceptions of di (...)
  • 71 Michael Grossberg, "Who Gets the Child? Custody, Guardianship, and the Rise of a Judicial Patriarch (...)
  • 72 Riley, Divorce: an American tradition, 83; Einhorn, "Child custody in historical perspective: A stu (...)
  • 73 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, (...)

34 Interestingly, the judge’s ruling complied with the gendered norms of society, as Johanne had assumed, and it thereby reflected some of the unequal social structures the socialist movement hoped to recast in American society. Firstly, this was true in terms of the judge’s custody decision. Since the second half of the nineteenth century, state judiciaries had implemented the ‘tender years doctrine’ that replaced the juridical principle appointing the father as the principal guardian of his children.70 Instead, the tender years doctrine gave mothers a presumptive claim to their young children by reference to women’s “special qualities” making them more suited than men to child-rearing.71 Still, some judges overruled this maternal custody preference in cases with ‘faulty’ mothers, for example adulterous wives, which created an uncertainty causing women to stay in destructive marriages out of fear of losing their children.72 This explicit link between juridical practice and the prevailing gender norms, consigning motherhood to wives and subsistence of the family to husbands, favored women in terms of child custody, but simultaneously hindered their path into the labor force, as both single motherhood and laboring women were generally frowned upon.73

  • 74 Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3, 227.
  • 75 William L. O'Neill, Divorce in the progressive era (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 19 (...)
  • 76 Harriet Sigerman, "Laborers for Liberty: 1865-1890," in No small courage: a history of women in the (...)
  • 77 See e.g., Kenneth Cmiel, A home of another kind: one Chicago orphanage and the tangle of child welf (...)
  • 78 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 689.

35This attempt to uphold housekeeping and childrearing in the private sphere of the home as the primary responsibilities of women can be considered an expression of the white, middle-class’ concern for the social order and, in particular, the integrity of the traditional family unit that characterized the late nineteenth after the legal end of slavery. Urbanization and industrialization destabilized the home as a family sanctuary from where healthy marriages could emerge, the general public lamented.74 It was especially women’s entrance into the labor market that brought about new, more liberal conceptions of family, sexuality, and marriage among the urban working-class, for whom mass divorce was just one of “a series of adjustments by which the patriarchal family of the Protestant sexual ethic have accommodated themselves to the demands of an urban, industrial society,” William O’Neill explains.75 As the traditional framework of the American family transformed in the late nineteenth century, class, gender, and ethnicity proved to be crucial categories of social differentiation that, as they intersected, affected the accessibility of divorce. This applied especially to white, working-class immigrant women, who experienced both gender, class, and ethnic discrimination at the job market, restricting their access to jobs and making their toiling worth less than men’s.76 As a consequence of this multifaceted discrimination, working women were positioned in economically deprived situations that delimited their access to divorce, simply because their paychecks made them unable to pay for a divorce as well as to feed their children single-handedly. For already-divorced working-class mothers, these circumstances forced them either to give up their children and put their children into orphanages until they found economic footing again,77 or to quickly remarry to ensure that their children were provided for, as Johanne did. Tellingly, as salaries improved for women in the paid labor force, enabling them to support themselves and their children, more women found the courage—and got the money—to pursue divorce.78

  • 79 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 25; Riley, Divorce: an American tradition, 79.

36Secondly, the very cause on which the judge based the verdict aligned with the rising awareness of the existence of domestic abuse, rapidly making ‘cruelty,’ which encompassed both physical, verbal, and mental abuse, a chief ground for wives to charge their husbands.79 The Bureau of the Census’s special report on American marriages and divorces in the period between 1867-1906, also known as ‘the Wright Report,’ named after its chief investigator, offers a statistical overview of the legal grounds for American divorce around 1880:

  • 80 The nationwide numbers concern 1881, whereas the Illinois numbers cover 1867-86 Census, Marriage an (...)

37Table 1: Legal grounds for divorce granted to either husband or wife, USA and Illinois, ca. 1880.80

  • 81 Due to the US federal principles, each state formulated separate laws on divorce that other states (...)
  • 82 Howard meticulously describes the evolution of Illinois’s divorce law Howard, A History of Matrimon (...)
  • 83 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 24, 84ff.

38The contested nature of the legality of divorce demonstrates itself in the diversity of state legislations on divorce that, in the late nineteenth century, included different but growing numbers of justifiable grounds for divorce.81 In Illinois, the number of legitimate causes had grown to nine in 1881: 1) Impotence, 2) bigamy, 3) adultery, 4) desertion, 5) cruelty, 6) drunkenness for two years 7) an omnibus clause, 8) conviction for felony, and 9) when either person “has attempted the life of the other.”82 As Wright notes, the fault-based divorce system enabled wives to obtained divorce twice as often as husbands, probably because causes such as cruelty and non-support were more applicable against husbands than wives, as Table 1 illustrates.83 In contrast, desertion and adultery were applicable to both. This gendering of the causes for divorce has presumably directly affected how divorce-seekers presented, or framed, their cases.

4.3 Working-Class Divorces

  • 84 Cf. Karen Vallgårda, "Divorce, Bureaucracy, and Emotional Frontiers," Journal of Family History 42, (...)
  • 85 Aughinbaugh, Robles, and Sun, "Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational atta (...)
  • 86 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 42-43.

39With a juridical system that institutionalized the gender norms of society, men and women were obviously treated differently in court, but outside the courtroom, a significant share of divorcing men and women had one social identity marker in common: their class. While the divorce system might have been harder and more expensive for the lowest socioeconomic groups of society to navigate than for the middle and upper classes,84 the prevalence of working-class divorces was, and still is, disproportionately high in the US.85 The Wright Report, although hesitant to draw any conclusions because of an incomplete data set, found it “extremely interesting and significant” that divorce was “especially frequent” among laborers.86

  • 87 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 675.
  • 88 Ibid., 664.
  • 89 See the transcription of the court interrogations in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188)
  • 90 Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation, 8.

40Still, we must ask why divorce was more common among this segment of society. Naomi Cahn suggests that a man’s economic success determined his marital success.87 With a fault-based divorce system, only decreeing divorce on causes such as ‘neglect to provide’ more commonly found among the lowest socioeconomic groups, men with sparse economic resources were more prone to divorce. Besides these juridical structures disadvantaging men from the lower classes, the (lack of) consequences for the reputations of the divorcing parties might have influenced their willingness to break up. While middle-class and upper-class people might have divorced less because they had social status to worry about losing,88 working-class and poor people have, presumably, been freer to dissolve their marriages because they had less of a reputation to maintain or memberships to hold tightly to. Johanne still had dignity despite her social class, though. On one occasion, a furious Paul had allegedly thrown books out of their window, after which Johanne instantaneously “went out to pick them up again because I didn’t like the neighbors to see that there was something the matter,” she told in court.89 Johanne’s preoccupation with the reputation of her family attests to Nancy Cott’s assertion that society’s legal and social norms generally converged, often prompting local communities to enforce the law in case something diverged therefrom.90 Marital abuse was an offence of which neither the law nor the local community approved, and as she was clearly aware of this, Johanne did not want her family to be stigmatized as someone causing societal disorder.

  • 91 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, (...)
  • 92 Nancy Tomes, "Historical Perspectives on Women and Mental Illness," in Women, Health, and Medicine (...)
  • 93 Povl Geleff, Wheaton, Ill., [1877?], Geleff, Poul. Kasse 1. Arkivnummer 33, Arbejderbevægelsens Bib (...)

41Besides economy, the prevalence of family violence, juridically categorized as ‘cruelty’ in divorce cases, must also be taken into consideration. Family violence was most widespread among immigrant and lower-class families in modernizing American society, typically having in common “their poverty, above all, and their experience of helplessness in the context of radical social and economic change,” Linda Gordon explains.91 The Geleff v. Geleff case exemplifies Gordon’s finding. Diagnosis such as Johanne’s “female disease” were symptomatic of the time as a sign of women’s powerlessness in regard to societal changes such as industrialization, urbanization, and modernization that transformed family relations and, especially, women’s lives. Men, on the other hand, while also suffering from these rapid changes, reacted differently, often through alcohol consumption and violence, medical historians explain.92 Following this, both Johanne’s mental illness and Paul’s alleged abuse might have been gender-specific expressions of mental distress. But Johanne’s sickness did not suddenly occur in America; in a previous letter to a Danish friend suffering from “mood disturbances,” Johanne reveals that her mental health problems started in Denmark, where, she asserts, Paul’s abusive behavior also began. In the letter, Johanne tries to comfort her friend by reminding him of her own experiences with depression: “I have been there myself, in my eye the whole world was pitch-black, but I managed to fight it off.”93 Yet this does not rule out the possibility that the couple’s turbulent beginning to American life triggered a rekindling of Paul’s destructive behavior.

42To sum up, the juridical structures, social hierarchies, and circumstances for immigrants in American society contributed to making divorce a working-class phenomenon. It was simply harder for the lowest socioeconomic groups to create the ideal conditions for a well-functioning family, and with a divorce system based on faults more commonly found among that segment of society, they elevated the divorce rates.

5. A Transnational Lens on Divorce

  • 94 Torben Grøngaard Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000 (Odense: Odense Bys Museer, 2005), 119, 81; Eric (...)
  • 95 E.g. Gjerde, The minds of the West: Ethnocultural evolution in the rural Middle West, 1830-1917; Ri (...)

43The increasing number of immigrants seeking a new home in the US in the second half of the nineteenth century contributed to creating a highly stratified society in which class, race, and ethnic background intwined and became decisive for one’s social status. Noticeably, most of these immigrants qualified as work migrants as they belonged to the lowest socioeconomic classes of their country of origin and primarily emigrated to pursue a new and better life in the US through work. Immigration consequently enforced the ethnic, racial, and class divides already present in American society.94 And it was not only in the political sphere that ethnicity draw a line of demarcation, separating the American-born from the foreign-born Americans, as Marie Jo Buhle has demonstrated in the case of American socialism, because in the private sphere of the family, as well, the values and social structures of people born in America and those born abroad differed markedly. Consequently, cultural historians have typically depicted immigrants as more traditional and patriarchy-oriented than Anglo-Americans of similar socioeconomic status.95 This suggests that it is not sufficient to consider only the American circumstances when examining a case of immigrant divorce in the US; a transnational lens must be applied, attentive also to ethnic background of the immigrants that might have informed their American experiences, including their divorces.

  • 96 Vallgårda, "Divorce, Bureaucracy, and Emotional Frontiers," 83, 92.
  • 97 Even so, the socioeconomic and educational level of the urban working-class sometimes obstructed th (...)
  • 98 Harald Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," Nationaløkonomisk tidsskrift 6, no. 1 (...)

44Contrary to American divorce law, no-fault separation (leading to divorce after three years) was an option in late-nineteenth century Denmark, which reflects the county’s historically liberal family laws.96 This made marital dissolution rather easy to attain97 and formed the mindset of the Danish population that approached divorce with “excessive laxity,” as the Danish national economist Harald Westergaard noted in 1887.98 Given this Danish ‘laxity’ in marital rupture affairs, it is not surprising that the prevalence of separations and divorces was high in Denmark compared to other European countries—nonetheless, it was still exceeded by the US:

  • 99 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 19-20, 435, 81-82, 93.

45Table 2: Divorce and separation rates pr. 1,000 population in Denmark, USA, Ireland, and Norway, 1880 and 1900.99

  • 100 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 19-20, 435; Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i (...)
  • 101 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 9; Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 169ff, 9 (...)

46While the Danish divorce/separation rate was 0.31 pr. 1,000 population and steadily decreased in the last decades of the century, the American rate counted 0.38 pr. 1,000 population in 1880 and grew considerably by the end of the century.100 These oppositely directed tendencies may, partially, be the result of transnational migration, as it was especially nubile young people and divorced men who emigrated from Denmark.101 Emigration, then, lowered the number of divorcing persons in the sending country and increased the number in the receiving country, thus demonstrating the necessity of factoring in transnational migration when studying divorce, both qualitatively as well as quantitatively.

  • 102 Mette Andersson, "Adskillelse fra bord og seng: dansk separations- og skilsmissepraksis, -statistik (...)
  • 103 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 15-16, 21.
  • 104 Ibid., 21.
  • 105 Kristian Hvidt, Flight to America: the social background of 300.000 Danish emigrants, Studies in so (...)

47Peaking in 1882, with more than 10,000 Danes leaving behind their home country annually, the mass emigration from Denmark to the US demonstrates how the question of migration intersected with factors such as class and urbanity. As in the US, divorce was a predominantly urban phenomenon in Denmark, centered around the capital, Copenhagen, where marriage dissolution was almost three times as prevalent as in the rest of the country in 1880 and six times as prevalent in 1900.102 The demography of Copenhagen, with its “increasingly disproportional distribution of the social classes” was part of the explanation, Westergaard claimed; as a “cancer of the present,” he argued, urban proletarianism demoralized the working class and manifested itself in the urban divorce rates.103 The conditions for this “surplus” of the Danish population had to be improved, or they would be encouraged to emigrate for political reasons, Westergaard asserted.104 The latter option offered an immediate solution to the problems proletarians and unemployed people were faced with, and the Danish mass emigration in the late nineteenth century, leading more than 10% of the population to America in search of higher wages, can appropriately be termed an ‘economic exodus.’105 As such, class stratification was not only foundational, but also inextricably linked to urbanity in Danish society, where migration became a tool offering brief relief to both the migrants and the sending state. But the underlying social problems were much greater and deeper, according to the socialists, who were preoccupied with finding a cure for the economic depression of the working classes, regardless of their national or ethnic backgrounds.

6. American Divorce in Figures

  • 106 Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States," 522.
  • 107 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 11, 19-20.
  • 108 The table includes the Norwegians, as they comprised a Scandinavian, Protestant ethnic group better (...)

48Immigrants holding different views on family values and divorce thus comprised a large share of the working class that contributed considerably to the surging divorce rate, yet quantitative studies of divorce have generally left out ethno-cultural factors and instead focused on measurable features of the divorcing couple, such as their marital age, number of children, regionality, and urbanity. In his work on early American divorce, social scientist Martin Schultz, for instance, hints that the ethnic and religious composition of the population must have influenced its divorce rates, yet he never delves into the topic.106 Similarly, the Wright Report demonstrates significant national differences, but still it altogether neglects to discuss ethnicity in American divorces.107 It is, however, possible to examine American divorce statistics from a viewpoint that includes ethnicity, as demonstrated in Table 3, which shows the percentage of divorced persons based on the married population in 1880 among selected ethnic groups on different scales—from the entire US population down to the city of Chicago.108

49Table 3: Percentage of divorced persons based on the married population, 1880 census.

  • 109 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 201.
  • 110 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 4-5, 30.

50Looking at these numbers from an ethnic perspective, the percentage of divorced native-born Americans in the Midwest was substantially higher than among European immigrants. As such, the lax attitude towards divorce that characterized the Danish population does not seem to be present in the US. The young age of the average Danish immigrant, who in 1880 was often either single or newly married, may offer an explanation for this low percentage.109 Interestingly, the religious divide between Catholics and Protestants, making divorce four times as prevalent among Protestants than Catholics in Europe, also does not explain the ethnic differences in the US.110

  • 111 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 64, 70-71; see also Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: (...)

51Approaching the statistics from a geographical viewpoint, other tendencies stand out—namely, the fact that the Midwest formed a hub of American divorces in the late nineteenth century: While the region was home to about 35% of the US population, 49% of the country’s divorces were issued there.111 Finally, when reading the numbers through the lens of urbanity, another story stands out. From this perspective, it becomes evident that three times as many native-born Americans than Danes were divorced in the Midwest in 1880, yet when moving into the city of Chicago, the difference is not as massive. This gives evidence that in the US, like in Denmark, divorce was an urban phenomenon. Divorces coalesced in the denser-populated areas throughout the country, and in the state of Illinois, Chicago spearheaded the divorce surge, as Table 4 evidences.

Table 4: Divorce rates pr. 1,000 population in urban and other counties of America and Illinois, 1880 and 1900.112

52Looking closer into urbanity as a factor in Midwestern divorce rates, but now defining ‘urban’ as cities with more than 2,500 inhabitants cf. the classification of the Bureau of the Census, the trend is still noticeable as visualized in Table 5:

53Table 5: Divorce among the rural and urban population of the Midwest based on the married population, 1880.

54Urbanity, then, seems to be a critical factor transgressing ethnic divides in the divorce statistics, which raises the question of why divorces centered in exactly the urban areas of late nineteenth century America. The figures above suggest that neither ethnicity nor regionality can single-handedly offer an adequate explanation. Instead, our focus should be directed at the ways in which the urban milieu created a distinct sphere in which all of these factors intersected and converged, I argue in the following section.

7. Divorce in the Sprawling City

55The increasing liberalization of divorce law, the expansion of legal grounds for divorce, and a broader social acceptance of the phenomenon surely explain the nationwide increase in divorces, but they do not explain the concentration of marital terminations in urban areas. Of course, there are also common-sense reasons that divorce was concentrated in the cities. On the family farm, every family member contributed to the family economy, and the children’s inheritance and local reputation were typically ruined if the parents split. Furthermore, women of the country were more isolated from resources, the judicial system, job prospects, and potential new spouses, just as they did not enjoy the same anonymity as women of the cities.

  • 113 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 210-11.

56Nonetheless, it seems striking that American divorce rates heightened with an impressive pace in the cities that simultaneously witnessed a dramatic influx of working-class migrants, including both American-born migrants from rural areas, formerly enslaved people from the South, and transnational migrants, making Chicago one of the country’s fastest growing metropolises.113 The structures and social fabric of society changed accordingly. An answer to the question why American divorces concentrated in the cities is, therefore, most likely found in the intertwinement of multiple trends pertaining to the new, urban arena, which include but are not limited to: changing family structures and gendered norms caused by the new industrial job market employing both men and women (and children); the industrial economy attracting both American rural laborers and transnational immigrants, all seeking social mobility; and the new urban forms of sociability, leisure, and pleasure giving rise to new conceptions of the good life—and new types of proletarian misery. In combination, these factors created an urban sphere with a highly diverse population for whom wealth was reserved for the few and an underprivileged life for the many, and where indissoluble, lifelong marriages were neither easily maintained nor necessarily preferred because of the alternative lifestyles available in the city.

  • 114 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, (...)
  • 115 Such spatial determinism legitimated, for instance, the practice of sending urban children into fos (...)
  • 116 Harald Brede, Haandbog for Udvandrere til Amerika (Copenhagen: Michelsens Forlag, 1883).
  • 117 Ibid., 18.

57The differences between the urban and rural areas were explained in ideological terms, building on a cultural anxiety that emerged from the country’s growing immigrant population and booming urbanism. Consequently, a narrative framing the cities as anonymous homes for proletarians that through poverty, crime, and violence broke down the ‘good’ social order spread throughout the country in this period, advocating the superiority of rurality over urbanism.114 Spatial determinism was at the core of this urban critique: While rural areas were considered spiritual and economic hotspots giving rise to a healthy population with high religious and moral standards, urban areas were considered cancerous and capitalist slums producing deprived and godless urbanites without a proper moral compass.115 Being both a foreigner and poor in the vibrating but also alluring city formed a unique combination of factors that would lead to further alleged deprivation, the narrative seemed to suggest. Even Paul Geleff reproduced this narrative as he linked class to urbanism and moral degeneration in his Danish-language book Handbook for Emigrants to America, written shortly after the divorce.116 Having spent five years in urban America, he had become acquainted with the social structures of the American city that made social mobility immensely hard, and he thus advised Danish laborers and unemployed not to emigrate at all, and if they did so after all, stipulated that they should avoid settling in the cities: “Beware of them [the cities], if you really want to pursue an independent existence.”117 The city was inherently bad, creating a degenerating milieu bad for the human spirit, this narrative claimed.

  • 118 Christiane Harzig, "Introduction: Women Move from the European Countryside to Urban America," in Pe (...)
  • 119 Cf. 'the Yankee household' vs. 'the European American household' in Gjerde, The minds of the West: (...)
  • 120 Danish immigrants preferred to marry other ethnic Danes in 1870-1900 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-20 (...)
  • 121 Harzig, "Introduction: Women Move from the European Countryside to Urban America," 20.
  • 122 Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3, 228.

58Regardless of the prevailing narrative about urban life, married life in the cities did, in fact, differ significantly from the rural areas of America as well as from the native countries of the immigrants, research demonstrates. As the selection of potential spouses grew, so too did the tendency to build marriages on individual choice and romantic love, cultural historian Christiane Harzig explains.118 Moreover, historian Jon Gjerde argues that a matrimonial tie based on “true love,” which, for many immigrants, diverged from their traditional conjugal practices, was not foreign to American-born people already practicing this type of marriage.119 Although endogamy was still found among some immigrant groups,120 the urban arena functioned as an agent of acculturation prompting significant changes in marriage and divorce cultures among at least some of its dwellers who would adopt ‘the American way’ of life and love.121 This turned marriage into a fragile institution, as described by the contemporary sociologist George Howard, who wrote: “In the crowded, heterogeneous, and shifting population of the great towns, marriages are often lightly made and as lightly dissolved.”122 The new marriage and divorce culture spread quickly among members of the working class who had less at stake, both economically and socially, than middle- and upper-class Americans, as argued above. On this basis, I suggest that the urban arena constituted more than a contextualizing backdrop to the many lives lived there. The city not only facilitated divorce; it induced divorce.

59The social structures of this urban arena contributing to the growth of divorce were, on the one hand, among those the socialist movements of the nineteenth century sought to improve; yet, on the other hand, the socialists simultaneously welcomed the eased accessibility and the increasing acceptance of divorce. Urban divorce, then, became emblematic of the social changes the socialist movement sought to rectify and advance in contemporaneous Danish and American society.

8. Conclusion

  • 123 "Om Udvandring."

60By emigrating to America, Johanne and Paul Geleff, like thousands of European immigrants, pursued the dream of a better life abroad, but none of them succeeded in making geographical mobility equivalent to social mobility such as the socialist leadership had envisioned, when they predicted that Danish socialists would advance in America with such great speed that they would eventually become indifferent to class struggle.123 Instead, the dream of a socialist colony failed in the US—and so did the marriage between Johanne and Paul, making them part of a surging divorce trend that transformed the perception of American marriage in the late nineteenth century.

61By taking the Geleff divorce case as its point of entry into the experiences of a divorcing immigrant couple in late nineteenth century Chicago, this study has examined how gender, race, ethnicity, and class intersected in divorce and gave rise to a new urban divorce culture. Precisely this divorce trial has offered a privileged lens through which to examine both multiple influences, such as the changing geography, demography, and values of American society, that caused both the rise in late-nineteenth century divorces and the socialist movements of the late nineteenth century aiming to rectify the social inequalities emerging from the disruption of the old social order.

62Broadly, the study shows that urban divorce became emblematic of the social changes the socialist movements sought to rectify and advance in Danish and American society: While the socialists lamented the social problems coalescing in the fast-growing urban metropolises, they simultaneously welcomed the increased accessibility and social acceptance of divorce that these changes entailed. More concretely, the analysis finds that, despite the distinct ethnic and ideological background of the Geleff couple, their divorce case was typical for the time. The empirical foundation of the case study is not sufficient to determine whether the couple’s immigrant experiences affected their ability to implement the socialist principles in their everyday lives, but analysis of the divorce proceedings nonetheless demonstrates that, in court, Johanne enmeshed her testimony in existing societal structures, as she—perhaps deliberately—reproduced the social norms for nuptial behavior and thereby aligned the couple’s marital history with the fault-based divorce system that helped institutionalize society’s gender norms. Ultimately, this integration of the macro-level structures of American society into the intimate history of the couple’s marriage guaranteed Johanne a divorce.

63By employing quantitative data on US divorces, the article’s discussion adds new layers and nuances to the study of late-nineteenth century divorce by linking it to class, ethnicity, migration, and urbanity. First, it points out that divorce was a class phenomenon more widespread among the working class than any other social group in the US. Since immigrants comprised a major part of the American working class, the article then, secondly, argues that a transnational lens is necessary not only to understand the convergence between migration and the US working class, but also to understand the values the immigrants brought with them to the US, including their views on divorce.

64Following this line of reasoning, the article then, thirdly, focuses on ethnicity as an influential but not decisive factor in American divorce rates, given that the liberal Danish attitude towards divorce that was especially prevalent among socialist women proving to be more progressive on gendered matters than their male peers in the early 1870s did not show itself in the divorce statistics. Conversely, Danish American divorce rates fit better with the conservative values commonly found among European immigrants. Religion did not appear to be a decisive explanatory factor.

65Fourthly, the examination shows that divorce was an urban phenomenon centered in the cities of the US and, most pronouncedly, in the industrial metropolis of Chicago, that attracted both American- and foreign-born workers. Among the urban working class, changes in family patterns and gendered roles occurred that caused an increasing number of family ruptures and prompted a new, urban divorce culture. Thus, the socio-geographical milieu of American city formed more than a backdrop to divorce; it induced divorce, this study suggests.

66Urbanity, then, and its intertwinement with class, ethnicity, and gender, should be ascribed a crucial role in American divorce culture that cannot be explained merely by refence to transnationally transmitted ethnic values. Instead, this study concludes that to adequately understand the growth in late-nineteenth century American divorces, divorce must be approached as an intersectional phenomenon shaped by categories of social differentiation such as gender, ethnicity, and class as well as the very context in which it took place.

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Notes

1 US Bureau of the Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 2 vols., vol. 1, Special reports: Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, (Washington: G. P. O., 1909), 12.

2 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1; Thomas P. Monahan, "Divorce by Occupational Level," Marriage and family living (Menasha, Wis.) 17, no. 4 (1955), https://doi.org/10.2307/346942; National Center for Health Statistics, 100 Years of Marriage and Divorce Statistics, United States 1867-1967 (U.S. Government Printing Office, 1973); Martin Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States," Sociological quarterly 25, no. 4 (1984), https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1533-8525.1984.tb00207.x; Alison Aughinbaugh, Omar Robles, and Hugette Sun, "Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment," Monthly Labor Review. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (October 2013), https://doi.org/https://doi.org/10.21916/mlr.2013.32.

3 H. Arnold Barton, A folk divided: homeland Swedes and Swedish Americans, 1840-1940, Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis. Studia multiethnica Upsaliensia; 10, (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994, 1994); Dag Blanck and Adam Hjorthén, "Transnationalizing Swedish-American Relations: An Introduction to the Special Forum," Journal of Transnational American Studies 7, no. 1 (2016 2016); Tina Langholm Larsen, "Preserving the Dane: Danish People’s Society and the negotiation of Danish ethnicity in America, c. 1887-1964" (Aarhus University, 2019).

4 Jon Gjerde, The minds of the West: Ethnocultural evolution in the rural Middle West, 1830-1917 (Chapel Hill and London: The University of North Carolina Press, 1997, 1997); Suzanne M. Sinke, "Relating European emigration and marriage patterns," Immigrants & Minorities 20, no. 1 (2001), https://doi.org/10.1080/02619288.2001.9975009.

5 The divorce proceedings include a petition letter, a transcription of the court interrogations, some official forms, and the divorce decree. See Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188), 1881, Superior Court of Cook County, Cook County Circuit Court Archives, Chicago, Illinois.

6 Geleff, Brix, and Pio are today praised as the founding fathers of the Danish Social Democratic Party, Socialdemokratiet, the largest political party in Denmark. This praise is a product of Pio’s daughter and wife’s efforts to restore the image of the socialist pioneers after his death in 1894. Geleff benefitted from their work: After decades of struggle in the US, in 1920, he accepted Socialdemokratiet’s offer to sponsor his remigration and retirement in Denmark. See "45 years’ exile brings triumph to Danes’ chief," Chicago Tribune, July 14 1920.

7 Larsen, "Preserving the Dane: Danish People’s Society and the negotiation of Danish ethnicity in America, c. 1887-1964."; Torben Grøngaard Jeppesen, Dannebrog on the American prairie (Odense: Odense City Museums, 2000); Jens Engberg, Til arbejdet! Liv eller død! Louis Pio og arbejderbevægelsen (København: Gyldendal, 1979); Anders Bo Rasmussen, Civil War settlers: Scandinavians, citizenship, and American empire, 1848-1870 (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 2022).

8 See e.g., Erika K. Jackson, Scandinavians in Chicago: the origins of white privilege in modern America (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2019); Jørn Brøndal, "‘The Fairest among the So-Called White Races’: Portrayals of Scandinavian Americans in the Filiopietistic and Nativist Literature of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," Journal of American Ethnic History 33, no. 3 (2014), https://doi.org/10.5406/jamerethnhist.33.3.0005; Jana Sverdljuk et al., eds., Nordic whiteness and migration to the USA: a historical exploration of identity (London; New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group, 2021).

9 In this study, I use class as a term that primarily concerns socioeconomical status, although class also has a psychological dimension vividly described in contemporary literature such as Upton Sinclair, The Jungle (New York: Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., 2012).

10 Patricia Hill Collins and Sirma Bilge, Intersectionality, Key Concepts, (Cambridge: Polity, 2016); Kimberle Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color," Stanford law review 43, no. 6 (1991), https://doi.org/10.2307/1229039.

11 Ashleigh E. McKinzie and Patricia L. Richards, "An argument for context-driven intersectionality," Sociology compass 13, no. 4 (2019), https://doi.org/10.1111/soc4.12671; Patricia Hill Collins, "Intersectionality's Definitional Dilemmas," Annual review of sociology 41, no. 1 (2015), https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-soc-073014-112142; Crenshaw, "Mapping the Margins: Intersectionality, Identity Politics, and Violence against Women of Color."

12 By examining the Geleff divorce case, I follow Christensen and Jensen’s advice to conduct intersectional analyses of everyday life events—an approach that allows researchers to access social identity categories from the perspective of the involved individuals without constructing them themselves. See Ann-Dorte Christensen and Sune Qvotrup Jensen, "Doing Intersectional Analysis: Methodological Implications for Qualitative Research," NORA: Nordic journal of women's studies 20, no. 2 (2012): 118, https://doi.org/10.1080/08038740.2012.673505.

13 Jackson, Scandinavians in Chicago: the origins of white privilege in modern America, 1ff; Brøndal, "‘The Fairest among the So-Called White Races’: Portrayals of Scandinavian Americans in the Filiopietistic and Nativist Literature of the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries."

14 E. Wiinblad and Alsing Andersen, Det danske Socialdemokratis Historie fra 1871 til 1921: Festskrift i Anledning af 50-Aars Jubilæet, 2 vols., vol. 1 (København: Socialdemokratiets forlag “Fremad”, 1921), 23; Wiinblad and Andersen, Det danske Socialdemokratis Historie fra 1871 til 1921: Festskrift i Anledning af 50-Aars Jubilæet, 1.

15 Povl Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv (København: C. Hørdum, 1877), 9.

16 "“Internationale” i Kjøbenhavn," Slagelse-Posten, October 17 1872; "Om Betingelserne for Kvindens Frigørelse," Social-Demokraten, August 11 1876.

17 Zillah Eisenstein, "An Alert: Capital is Intersectional; Radicalizing Piketty’s Inequality," The Feminist Wire (May 26 2014). https://thefeministwire.com/2014/05/alert-capital-intersectional-radicalizing-pikettys-inequality/.

18 Cari M. Carpenter, "Introduction," in Selected Writings of Victoria Woodhull, Suffrage, Free Love, and Eugenics (University of Nebraska Press, 2010).

19 Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz, "Victoria Woodhull, Anthony Comstock, and Conflict over Sex in the United States in the 1870s," The Journal of American History 87, no. 2 (2000), https://doi.org/10.2307/2568758.

20 Pio and Jørgensen eventually married in 1878. Rasmussen convincingly argues that their marriage was a practical solution, since Augusta’s work as a music teacher outside their home required a proper conjugal contract. See Anders Bo Rasmussen, Pio - Flugten til Amerika (Lindhardt & Ringhof, 2023).

21 "“Internationale” i Kjøbenhavn."; "Internationale," Isefjordsposten, October 3 1872; Augusta Jørgensen, "Kvindesagen," Social-Demokraten, October 10 1872; "Internationale," Dagbladet, October 2 1872.

22 "Et Foredrag om Kvindesagen," Social-Demokraten, September 15, 1886. The lecture was given during Augusta’s visit to Denmark in 1886. Danish newspapers concealed her identity by describing her merely as a woman “very well-known in the working-class milieu of Copenhagen,” possibly because Pio wanted to shelter her from the Danish authorities with whom he had previously been in conflict Rasmussen, Pio - Flugten til Amerika.

23 Medea, "Det frie Ægteskab," Social-Demokraten, March 5 1876.

24 For discussions and and critique of this analogy, see Nelson Manfred Blake, The road to Reno: A history of divorce in the United States (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 104-05, 14; Elizabeth B. Clark, "Matrimonial Bonds: Slavery and Divorce in Nineteenth-Century America," Law and history review 8, no. 1 (1990), https://doi.org/10.2307/743675; Karen Offen, "How (and Why) the Analogy of Marriage with Slavery Provided the Springboard for Women's Rights Demands in France, 1640–1848," ed. Kathryn Kish Sklar and James Stewart, Online ed., Women's Rights and Transatlantic Antislavery in the Era of Emancipation (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), https://doi.org/10.12987/yale/9780300115932.003.0004.

25 "Medens Socialisternes Udsending, Hr. P. Geleff," Fædrelandet, November 15 1871.

26 Cited in Oluf Bertolt, Pionerer: Mændene fra Halvfjerdsernes Arbejderbevægelse (Copenhagen: Fremad, 1938), 157.

27 Mari Jo Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, The Working class in American history, (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1981), xvi, 11.

28 Poul Geleff, Randers, den 19. Januar. Kære Borger Karl Marx [Randers, January 19th. Dear Citizen Karl Marx], 1872, Geleff, Poul. Kasse 1. Arkivnummer 33, Arbejderbevægelsens Bibliotek og Arkiv; Henning Tjørnehøj, Louis Pio: Folkevækkeren (København: Fremad, 1992), 65-66.

29 Cited in Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, 11-12.

30 Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920, xiv.

31 Antje Schrupp, "Bringing Together Feminism and Socialism in the First International: Four Examples," in "Arise Ye Wretched of the Earth”: The First International in a Global Perspective, ed. Fabrice Bensimon, Quentin Deluermoz, and Jeanne Moisand, Studies in Global Social History (Brill, 2018), 344.

32 Buhle, Women and American socialism, 1870-1920; Schrupp, "Bringing Together Feminism and Socialism in the First International: Four Examples."

33 See §2 in Program og Love for det Socialdemokratiske Arbejderparti, (Copenhagen: Hovedbestyrelsens Forlag, 1876).

34 The couple married in April and Ejnar was born in May 1876, see https://link-lives.dk/soeg/pa/12-12928547/source-data.

35 Bertolt, Pionerer: Mændene fra Halvfjerdsernes Arbejderbevægelse, 202; "Socialistisk Udvandring," Roskilde Avis, September 16, 1875; "Om Udvandring," Social-Demokraten, March 19, 1876.

36 Louis Pio et al., "Indbydelse Til Deltagelse i Oprettelsen af en Koloni i Nord-Amerika [Invitation to Participate in the Establishment of a Colony in North America]," Social-Demokraten, January 14 1877.

37 For examples of Danish settler colonization in the second half of the nineteenth century, see Jeppesen, Dannebrog on the American prairie; Jette Mackintosh, ""Little Denmark" on the Prairie: A Study of the Towns Elk Horn and Kimballton in Iowa," Journal of American Ethnic History 7, no. 2 (1988 1988); Hanne Pico Larsen, Solvang, the "Danish Capital of America": a little bit of Denmark, Disney, or something else? (Berkeley: University of California, 2006, 2006).

38 Louis Pio et al., "Indbydelse Til Deltagelse i Oprettelsen af en Koloni i Nord-Amerika [Invitation to Participate in the Establishment of a Colony in North America]."

39 Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv.

40 Information extracted from Ancestry.com: Year: 1877; Arrival: New York, New York, USA; Microfilm Serial: M237, 1820-1897; Line: 12; List Number: 287.

41 Geleff, Den Rene, Skære Sandhed om Louis Pio og Mig Selv, 15.

42 "Den Danske Socialistiske Koloni i Kansas," Thisted Amtsavis, August 29, 1877.

43 "Hr. Geleff," Bornholms Avis, May 29 1877.

44 Information extracted from: Census Year: 1880; Census Place: Chicago, Cook, Illinois; Roll: 199; Page: 419B; Enumeration District: 189.

45 Th. Graae, "Danske i Amerika. N.C. Frederiksen," Nutiden, Feb 12 1888; Th. Graae, "Danske i Amerika. Poul Geleff," Nutiden, April 22 1888; "Stadt Chicago," Illinois Staats-Zeitung, April 25 1881.

46 Rasmussen, Pio - Flugten til Amerika.

47 "Cedar Falls og Omegn," Dannevirke, October 31 1888; "Danmark," Dannevirke, August 31 1887.

48 Povl Geleff, "Et Hjertesuk," Den Danske Pioneer, February 21 1895.

49 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 12.

50 See e.g., Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States."; Françoise Basch, "Women's Rights and the Wrongs of Marriage in Mid-Nineteenth-Century America," History workshop journal 22, no. 1 (1986), https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/22.1.18; Hendrik Hartog, "Marital exits and marital expectations in nineteenth century America," The Georgetown law journal 80, no. 1 (1991).

51 Nancy F. Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000), 8.

52 Naomi Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," SSRN Electronic Journal 2002, no. 3 (2002): 659, 65, https://doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.266477.

53 Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation, 1-2; Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 681-82.

54 The analysis builds on the divorce proceedings, see Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).

55 Vald. Pedersen, Xylograf F. Hendriksen 1847-1938, Foreningen for Boghaandværks publikation, (København: Forening for Boghaandværk, 1963), 121.

56 At this time, absolute judicial divorce was the only authorized practice in Illinois, making all divorce cases in Chicago a matter for the Superior Court of Cook County to handle. See George Elliott Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3 vols., vol. 3 (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1904), 119-20..

57 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 25.

58 Norma Basch, Framing American divorce: from the revolutionary generation to the Victorians (Berkeley, Calif: University of California Press, 1999), 6.

59 Glenda Riley, Divorce: an American tradition (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991), 49.

60 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 685.

61 See the transcription of the court interrogations in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).

62 Ibid.

63 Ibid.

64 Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th century America," in Women's Bodies, ed. Nancy F. Cott (Boston: K. G. Saur, 1993), 120.

65 See the divorce decree in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).

66 Information extracted from Ancestry.com: Illinois, U.S., Marriage Index, 1860-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015.

67 In 1883, however, Johanne divorced Fritz due to cruelty "Ten minutes for Divorce," Chicago Tribune, November 7 1883; "The Doctor’s Wife," Chicago Tribune, December 9 1883; "The Courts," Chicago Tribune November 07, 1883.

68 See Povl Geleff, Under Laas og Lukke (København: A. Guldbrandsen & Ko., 1876).

69 Linda Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960 (New York, NY: Viking Penguin Inc., 1988), 11.

70 Jay Einhorn, "Child custody in historical perspective: A study of changing social perceptions of divorce and child custody in Anglo-American law," Behavioral sciences & the law 4, no. 2 (1986): 125, https://doi.org/10.1002/bsl.2370040203.

71 Michael Grossberg, "Who Gets the Child? Custody, Guardianship, and the Rise of a Judicial Patriarchy in Nineteenth-Century America," Feminist studies 9, no. 2 (1983): 235, https://doi.org/10.2307/3177489.

72 Riley, Divorce: an American tradition, 83; Einhorn, "Child custody in historical perspective: A study of changing social perceptions of divorce and child custody in Anglo-American law," 126-27.

73 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, 82ff.

74 Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3, 227.

75 William L. O'Neill, Divorce in the progressive era (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1967), viii.

76 Harriet Sigerman, "Laborers for Liberty: 1865-1890," in No small courage: a history of women in the United States, ed. Nancy F. Cott (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 317-18; Joanne J. Meyerowitz, Women adrift: independent wage earners in Chicago, 1880-1930, Women in culture and society, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), xviii.

77 See e.g., Kenneth Cmiel, A home of another kind: one Chicago orphanage and the tangle of child welfare (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995).

78 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 689.

79 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 25; Riley, Divorce: an American tradition, 79.

80 The nationwide numbers concern 1881, whereas the Illinois numbers cover 1867-86 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 26, 90-95. I warmly thank Professor Torben Grøngaard Jeppesen for helping me to extract, order, and visualize the census data.

81 Due to the US federal principles, each state formulated separate laws on divorce that other states had to respect Dennis L. Peck, "Marriage and Divorce in the United States," ed. Clifton D. and Peck Bryant, Dennis L., 2 vols., 21st Century Sociology (Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications, Inc., 2007), under "21st Century Sociology." 31.

82 Howard meticulously describes the evolution of Illinois’s divorce law Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3, 119-20. See also the Revised Laws for Illinois, 1833: 232 cited in Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States," 519.

83 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 24, 84ff.

84 Cf. Karen Vallgårda, "Divorce, Bureaucracy, and Emotional Frontiers," Journal of Family History 42, no. 1 (2017), https://doi.org/10.1177/0363199016681609.

85 Aughinbaugh, Robles, and Sun, "Marriage and divorce: patterns by gender, race, and educational attainment."; W. Bradford Wilcox and Wendy Wang, The Marriage Divide: How and Why Working-class Families Are More Fragile Today, American Enterprise Institute (2017).

86 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 42-43.

87 Cahn, "Faithless Wives and Lazy Husbands: Gender Norms in Nineteenth Century Divorce Law," 675.

88 Ibid., 664.

89 See the transcription of the court interrogations in Geleff v. Geleff (Term No. 1046, G. No. 78188).

90 Cott, Public vows: a history of marriage and the nation, 8.

91 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, 11.

92 Nancy Tomes, "Historical Perspectives on Women and Mental Illness," in Women, Health, and Medicine in America, ed. Rima D. Apple (New York: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1990), 149-51; Smith-Rosenberg, "The Hysterical Woman: Sex Roles and Role Conflict in 19th century America," 107.

93 Povl Geleff, Wheaton, Ill., [1877?], Geleff, Poul. Kasse 1. Arkivnummer 33, Arbejderbevægelsens Bibliotek og Arkiv. This is the only source made by Johanne that still exists today. The letter’s receiver and date are unknown. Pio’s employment at Den Christelige Talsmand is mentioned, though, indicating that it was written in 1877 or 1878.

94 Torben Grøngaard Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000 (Odense: Odense Bys Museer, 2005), 119, 81; Eric Foner, Kathleen DuVal, and Lisa McGirr, Give Me Liberty! an American History, 7th Brief Edition ed. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2023), 484-92.

95 E.g. Gjerde, The minds of the West: Ethnocultural evolution in the rural Middle West, 1830-1917; Riley, Divorce: an American tradition; Suzanne M. Sinke, Dutch Immigrant Women in the United States, 1880-1920 (University of Illinois Press, 2002).

96 Vallgårda, "Divorce, Bureaucracy, and Emotional Frontiers," 83, 92.

97 Even so, the socioeconomic and educational level of the urban working-class sometimes obstructed their access to divorce, as they found it harder to navigate the institutional framework of Danish bureaucracy than middle- and upper-class divorce-seekers. See Vallgårda, "Divorce, Bureaucracy, and Emotional Frontiers."

98 Harald Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," Nationaløkonomisk tidsskrift 6, no. 1 (1888): 19.

99 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 19-20, 435, 81-82, 93.

100 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 19-20, 435; Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 2-4.

101 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 9; Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 169ff, 90.

102 Mette Andersson, "Adskillelse fra bord og seng: dansk separations- og skilsmissepraksis, -statistik og fortællinger om samlivssammenbrud, 1870-1930," (Copenhagen: Cand. mag. thesis, 2011), 32-35, 40.

103 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 15-16, 21.

104 Ibid., 21.

105 Kristian Hvidt, Flight to America: the social background of 300.000 Danish emigrants, Studies in social discontinuity, (New York: Academic Press, 1975, 1975).

106 Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States," 522.

107 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 11, 19-20.

108 The table includes the Norwegians, as they comprised a Scandinavian, Protestant ethnic group better represented in the US than the Danes and the Irish, who represented a mainly working-class, Catholic segment of the immigrant population.

109 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 201.

110 Westergaard, "Separationer og Skilsmisser i Danmark," 4-5, 30.

111 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 64, 70-71; see also Schultz, "Divorce in Early America: Origins and Patterns in Three North Central States," 522.

112 Census, Marriage and divorce, 1867-1906, 1, 18-19, 75, 146.

113 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 210-11.

114 Gordon, Heroes of Their Own Lives: The Politics and History of Family Violence, Boston, 1880-1960, 28. While this narrative was widespread, William Cronon has convincingly demonstrated that the city and country of nineteenth-century America were, in fact, deeply entangled and dependent on one another in William Cronon, Nature’s metropolis: Chicago and the Great West (New York W.W. Norton, 1992).

115 Such spatial determinism legitimated, for instance, the practice of sending urban children into foster care on Midwestern farms. See Megan Birk, Fostering on the farm: child placement in the rural Midwest (Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 2015).

116 Harald Brede, Haandbog for Udvandrere til Amerika (Copenhagen: Michelsens Forlag, 1883).

117 Ibid., 18.

118 Christiane Harzig, "Introduction: Women Move from the European Countryside to Urban America," in Peasant Maids, City Women: From the European Countryside to Urban America, ed. Christiane Harzig (Cornell University Press, 2018), 16-17.

119 Cf. 'the Yankee household' vs. 'the European American household' in Gjerde, The minds of the West: Ethnocultural evolution in the rural Middle West, 1830-1917.

120 Danish immigrants preferred to marry other ethnic Danes in 1870-1900 Jeppesen, Danske i USA 1850-2000, 233.

121 Harzig, "Introduction: Women Move from the European Countryside to Urban America," 20.

122 Howard, A History of Matrimonial Institutions, 3, 228.

123 "Om Udvandring."

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References

Electronic reference

Tina Langholm Larsen, Divorcing Socialists: Urban Divorce Culture and Danish Socialists in Chicago, 1876-1881European journal of American studies [Online], 19-2 | 2024, Online since 07 June 2024, connection on 23 July 2024. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/ejas/21853

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About the author

Tina Langholm Larsen

Tina Langholm Larsen, PhD, is an assistant professor of American Studies at the University of Southern Denmark. She is currently part of the research project ‘Transplanting Socialism: Women, Wages, and Whiteness among Danes in Chicago, 1865-1895’ that explores Scandinavian immigrants’ position in the socio-racial hierarchy of 19th century Chicago through an intersectional lens. She obtained her PhD degree in 2020 from the Study of Religion at Aarhus Universityand has previously been a guest researcher in the Department of History at University of Wisconsin-Madison and at City University of New York’s Graduate Center.She has published several articles on subjects including transnationalism, immigrant religion, homeland tourism, and colonization.

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