Why You Might File For Divorce In 1914
One hundred years ago if you got married, it was a commitment for life. Very few people got divorced. If you did file for divorce, there had to be a good reason. If your spouse hit you in the head with a metal gas lighter that might be enough to justify splitting up.
Salesman and professional musician Sidney Kamna of 1139 Forrest Avenue in the Bronx was very specific about why he wanted a separation from his wife of 15 years, Wilhelmina. In fact, the head whacking was just one of ten good reasons to get out of the marriage according to Sidney.
Appearing on January 6, 1914 in New York State Supreme Court before future Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court, Benjamin Cardozo, Sidney explained his unhappy circumstances.
All was well in the marriage until Christmas day 1910 when his wife’s sister received a genuine sealskin coat from her husband.
Wilhelmina was bitterly disappointed that Sidney had not gotten her a similar present. From that moment on Wilhelmina began treating Sidney badly for the next three years until he filed for divorce.
The bad treatment was quantified in court as a ten point list:
1. She scolded him because her sister-in-laws husband gave a fur coat to his wife.
2. She bent a gas lighter over his head.
3. She threatened to kill herself and her daughter, ten tears old.
4.She worked herself up into such a passion of anger at him that she remained ill for several days.
5. She compelled him to eat his meals alone.
6. She harassed him in his business affairs by tying up his bank accounts with injunctions thereby compelling him to pay legal expenses to get the injunctions vacated.
7. She was jealous of her husband’s family.
8. She refused to entertain his music pupils thereby compelling him to quit teaching music at his home.
9. She accused him of misconduct in his relations with other women.
10. She took the picture of her husband’s father from the wall of their apartment and threw it on the floor.
When Wilhelmina took the stand at the hearing she denied most of the charges and admitted others. Her defense was that her husband had been untruthful about his income to her and that he was too fond of the company of other women. After hearing the case Judge Cardozo reserved decision. The newspapers never followed up on the outcome of the divorce proceedings.
But apparently Sidney and Wilhelmina did split up. The 1920 U.S. Census shows Wilhelmina age 43, still living in the Bronx with daughter Marie age 17, but without Sidney.