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Shaw v. Shaw

Sticks And Stones

In Connecticut, if a wife was in physical danger in her home, her husband had to support her somewhere else. Cruelty was a major cause of legal separation and divorce. However, a woman had to fear injury or death to expect a court to free her from the marriage. Shaw v. Shaw illustrates how narrowly the courts viewed cruelty even up to the mid-nineteenth century.

Emeline and Daniel Shaw married on 24 October 1841, and lived together until 10 June 1844. On that day, Emeline left Daniel to live with her mother--and went to court for a divorce charging him with cruelty. At a hearing before Justice Joel Hinman at the February of 1845 term of the superior court in Litchfield, she claimed her husband often spoke to her in angry, abusive, and obscene language, even in front of her children (by a former husband). He called her names, such as "old hypocrite," and "ugly devil." He implied she was a slut and accused her of going to New York to have intercourse with other men.

Emeline testified that Daniel was unreasonably jealous of her, and would not allow her to visit her friends or family--particularly with her mother or his. On one occasion, when her mother-in-law had come to see the ailing Emeline, Daniel turned her away, forbidding her to come again. At another time, when Emeline wanted to sleep overnight at her mother's house--her health being so poor she could not have intercourse with Daniel--he tried to stop her by locking her door. She escaped out a window. In short, Daniel was intolerably cruel to Emeline.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1833 to 1882Shaw v. Shaw - Significance, Sticks And Stones, Patriarchal Power, Spousal Abuse, Further Readings