Marriage Could be Hell

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Marriage Could be Hell

In her book America 1900, Judy Crichton writes that in 1900 twenty percent of American women had jobs and the numbers were growing, but most went to work because they had no choice, working until they found a husband who could support them.  Women were led to believe that marriage was their ultimate goal; they were raised to be dependent.  Subservience was the mark of a well-trained woman and marriage the primary means of livelihood for most. Young women were too often moving from girlhood into marriage and overnight dependency on men they barely knew or didn’t necessarily like, let alone love.  No story better represents the plight of poor women at this time than that of Jannie Stock.  Her tale appeared in the Long Beach Press July 2, 1908.

Mrs. Stock had enough of a humdrum life and a loveless marriage in which she born seven children in seven years. She ran away.  When the Long Beach woman was located in Santa Barbara she told police:

Liberty to me now means life.  I was married in 1901, when I was 16. I have had seven children in seven years.  Two of them are living.  I was not allowed by my father to marry the man I loved and I practically had to marry Walter to prevent me from marrying the other.”

Her husband Walter was a road contractor, but had no business sense.  It was up to Mrs. Stock to straighten out his business affairs and do estimates on job proposals.  When he did get work she went with him, cooking and cleaning for his road crew and even taking care of the horses.  Jannie said her husband was a good man, but she couldn’t stand living with him any longer.  She had used her own money to flee to Santa Barbara and would support herself there by nursing.  There was no other man; she only wanted to be free.  She went on to state:

My life has been a living hell.  That’s why I don’t want to go back to the old life.  Any woman who has been similarly situated can understand.  I am a good woman; I am sorry for my husband, who cares for me in his way, but I cannot endure him and he knows it.  I will get work here and try to be happy and if he will let me have my children with me I will be content.”

Walter Stock went to Santa Barbara to persuade his wife to come home.  He returned to Long Beach broken hearted, with tears streaming down his cheeks, because she refused.