Sunday, September 4, 2011

Alimony Slavery in 1954


FULL TEXT: Will we ever have a new Lincoln to free the alimony slave? In New York's Manhattan telephone book you'll still find the entry: Alimony Jail. At various times it's been my job as reporter to interview inmates of this jail, which is at 434 West 34th Street (appropriately in the Hell's Kitchen district). Each time I was ashamed of my sex.

We were indignant at men having been jailed for debt in Dickens’ day, but today’s luckless husbands are in truth still being chucked into a debtors' prison— by women!

Number 434 was built in 1870 as headquarters for the city’s I first lady police. It became the Alimony Jail in 1927 when the infamous Ludlow Street jail – headquarters for the “Alimony Club” was closed. City officials describe the present headquarters as a “confined home” because the inmates are civil, prisoners held for contempt of court – but I notice that the doors and. windows to their “home” have bars.

~ “PROTECTED FROM WIVES.” ~

The inmates sleep in, a dormitory rather 'than cells, although there are cells handy should they become obstreperous. They exercise in the recreation yard, play ping-pong in the rumpus room, “schmoose” as one described it, or try their luck at cards.

The New York Public Library supplies books and magazines. There are a piano and a radio for entertainment. And as one beleaguered spouse expressed it, “We are protected from our wives.”

That's the good side. The bad side is the very fact of being under lock and key. with an armed guard keeping watch over you 24 hours a day.

The period of incarceration depends on the amount of alimony owed. Those who are behind $500 or less in their payments get three months, those who owe more than $500 get six months. Occasionally some big-time fellow gets jailed, but for the most part it's the little guy. Naturally, the final decision is up to the judge, but if that judge is cranky, or didn't like his lunch, or doesn't feel perky, he 'may well slap the poor guy into the clink.

~ SAYS SOME WOMEN ABUSE LAW. ~

The alimony law is outmoded. It stems back to the time when women were helpless creatures. I have no desire to come to the aid of the jerk who is allergic to responsibility and has deserted his wife and children. That's not -what we're talking about. But I am indignant at the woman who takes advantage of legal technicalities to hold a club over a man whose only crime is an incompatible marriage.

Generally speaking, I am against all alimony. Where there are children, I believe separate provision should be made for them — but unless the wife is a helpless invalid or a nitwit who hasn't enough sense to come in out of the rain, I think she should pay her own way. That is probably because my mother was ahead of her times. When her marriage to my stepfather went on the rocks, she had the backbone to ask for a divorce, not a separation, and to refuse alimony.

Said she, “I’ll starve first.” Of course she didn't starve. While women couldn't find work as easily in those days as they do now, she managed to wangle a job. Though I was but a child, her decision had a deep effect on my character as well as hers. We stood on our own feet we were free. I’ve always been sorry for women who take alimony.

In accepting the role of shelved chattle, they haul down the colors — they're through — spiritually, if not materially. I believe we, as women, should do something about our present alimony and divorce laws.

[Erskine, Helen Worden (“The World Goes By” column), “Asserts Women Should End ‘Racket’ of Alimony,” syndicated, Waterloo Daily Courier (Io.), Feb. 12, 1954, p. 4]

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For more revelations of this suppressed history, see The Alimony Racket: Checklist of Posts

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