Marriage and Divorce in the Post Victorian Era
Marriage is a social structure. When couples get married they enter into a relationship that is societally recognized and to some degree societally regulated. Laws, customs, traditions and cultural assumptions are intrinsically involved in defining the path that a marriage will take. In the late 19th century many Americans had to come to terms in some way with the societal expectations of marriage, guided by the Victorian mores. But as the 20th century began these elements began to evolve. As personal expectations became more important societal expectations lost prevalence.
The laws and regulations of the 1920's succeeded in making it more difficult to obtain a divorce. More conservative states in the East limited divorce to only two or three complaints, adultery or abandonment were the most common. But this red tape did not slow down the rapidly accelerating rate of divorce in the 1920's. Especially in the more liberal West was divorce becoming a more usual case. The state of California and the state of New Jersey were the center of May's Great Expectations.
California was settled by Victorians, many of who were European immigrants who moved to California from the mid-West. Other Victorians were native-born white Protestant Americans from the middle class. These men and women believed that independence and self denial would lead to progress. Most of these people were well to do merchants and professionals, who had economic autonomy. This Victorian culture encouraged domestic morality.
During this time there were clearly defined sex roles. The husband served as the sole provider and the wife took care of the home, children and volunteer work at the church. With the high social standards set at this time divorce was a huge reputation killer. But divorce still did occur. Cases against men of the time included: inability to provide for basic needs disruption of domestic life with vices and abuse or cruelty. Cases against women covered: inadequacy in motherhood, not fulfilling domestic responsibilities, and any use of vices.
What changes happened over the next forty years to cause an increase in the divorce rate? One might guess that women became more liberated or that the influx of immigrants may have caused competition for jobs. May proposed the idea that a revolution took place within society, a change that did not include all of the aspects of Victorianism. During this time there was an industrial revolution, a sexual revolution and urbanization. All of these meant that new roles needed to be defined within the home and between the sexes.
In the workplace corporations began to rise and ruin the opportunity for economic autonomy. No longer could a have the pride and power of running his own business, he was now forced to work under someone and in most cases take a pay cut. This also meant many women were almost forced into the workforce. Though many...