Tuesday, June 30, 2009

On Sunday in the Frederick News Post 100 years ago today section the following was printed.

June 28, 1909
Notice: My wife, Cecil Alice Fretwell, having left my bed and board, I hereby notify all persons that I will not be responsible for any debts contracted by her. JAMES B. FRETWELL.

This clip gives us little information in the way of details as to why Cecil Alice left her husband's bed and board. I assume this meant his home. Or did he literally mean 'his bed' and that she left him for good? He makes a public announcement that he will not pay for anything she might need while she is not under his roof. . .no food, clothing, housing, etc.
Quite extreme for the day. In fact there were laws in place that said a husband could not neglect his wife's welfare.

As a writer I imagine this story, brief as it is, on two accounts. One, Cecil Alice may have been an awful wife, perhaps unfaithful, lazy, a poor cook and housekeeper, frigid, unkept. Or maybe she was a constant nag. The Bible says in the Book of Proverbs, 'a continual dropping in a very rainy day and a contentious woman are alike.'

Obviously she was unhappy in her marriage to James and decided to leave him. Did she leave him for another man? Could that have been the reason James announced he would not pay for any of her debts?
Did she go home to her family?

On the other hand, perhaps James was a real fiend, an abusive husband. Perhaps he was controlling, demanding, and punished her when she would not 'obey' him. He may have denied her simple necessities in life. Maybe James was having a few flings of his own and Cecil Alice said enough was enough and walked out on him.

I'd like to give Cecil Alice the benefit of the doubt. Due to the fact her husband would be so unkind as to advertise to the entire county he would not pay for her debts since leaving him, makes me think he was did not love her and cared little what would become of her. If he did love her, he would have been searching for her, and doing all he could to convince her to come back home. But his advertisement says otherwise. Can you imagine her walking into an establishment to buy a meal and being denied because her husband will not pay up?

What do you imagine about this newspaper advertisement?
If you were to use this in a story, what would you write?
In your narrative, how would you describe Cecil Alice's flight?
How about Jame's anguish or anger?


Jessica said...

Well, first, it made me laugh out loud! I definitely think the husband sounds like a controlling, stuffy old catankerous codger. Ha!


Cute newsclip. I hope Mary Alice had a good life after that.

Linda said...

I would consider the husband to have a controlling aspect to his anger, shaming her in public. His announcement appeared also to be a disposal of her because she 'dared' to leave him. He was 'cutting her off.'
She probably couldn't stand him anymore because of his treatment towards her and left him in the middle of the night, shocking him to the core, unable to believe she'd try it yet alone do it. He must have thought quite highly of himself. She had to be desperate, as times were tough for women on their own.

Rita Gerlach said...

Jessica, I like the phrase you used, 'stuffy old cantankerous codger'. Paints a vivid mental image, doesn't it?

I agree, Linda. She couldn't stand him any more, and for a woman to leave her husband in 1909 not only had a harsh stigma to it, but it meant she was leaving her support. I hope she had family and that people ignored his advertisement and were kind to her.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

For a woman to leave back then, he must have been pretty mean to her.

Thanks, Rita. These old news items get the brain in motion. :)