Monday, January 25, 2010

100 Years Ago

Clip from the Frederick News Post, January 24, 1910

The Broken Engagment by George Bernard O'Neill

100 years ago - Mrs. Annie M. Hahn, through her attorneys, Stoner and Weinberg, has entered suit against William H. Dorcus, for alleged breach of promise, asking $15,000 damages. The plaintiff alleges that the defendant promised to marry her, and has refused and neglected to do so, and still refuses.

I had only heard of this kind of thing happening, but now I know it is true. This must have been a lively case and the talk of the town. Imagine, Miss Hahn claims Mr. Dorcus promised to marry her, and then brings a suit against him for failure to follow through. More than that he refused and continued to refuse.

Old newspaper clippings like this are a great resource for writers, in research and in story ideas. Even whittled down to a short scene. In my imagination, I think of Miss Hahn as being either of these:

Unpopular with the gents
Not a looker, but either plain or homely.
One who set her sights on Mr. Dorcus as a bank instead of a husband.

I would take pity on poor Mr. Dorcus. Perhaps he was a well-to-do gentleman and merely an acquaintance of Miss Hahn's. She saw dollar signs all over him.

Of course we could go the other route. Miss Hahn may have been a shy, sweet girl, and plain in her beauty. They may have met at a church social, and in a moment of high emotion, Mr. Dorcus suggested marriage. Or he did it on a dare. Or he meant to be cruel, having no intention of keeping such a promise.

Miss Hahn in her bliss began planning a wedding, and Mr. Dorcus flat out denies he ever proposed and leaves her standing at the alter. Parents or friends could have convinced Miss Hahn to file a lawsuit against him...a nortorious womaniser who was known for breaking ladies' hearts. 

$15,000 was a great deal of money in 1910. She'd been sitting pretty for the most of her life. But if he was a cad, was he getting what he deserved?

I'll be watching the paper to see if they post later clips telling us what the outcome was. 

Who do you think the judge or jury would have sided with? How would you use this in a scene in a novel?


Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Rita -

Were there witnesses to the proposal? Did the gentleman tell his friends he was getting married? Did he give her an engagement ring? Were the impending nuptials announced in the society column?

Susan :)

Rita Gerlach said...

Oh, Susan, I'd love to know the answers to those same questions I've asked. The Frederick News Post only published that one snippet. Perhaps we shall never know. But you've made a good point, that she would not go to such lengths, unless she was a terrible woman, unless he had proposed, given her an engagement ring, and told friends.

Interesting, though, how times have changed. You don't hear of women suing guys over breech of contract. There are engagement breakups all the time.

I wonder what people will think of some of our local news clips 100 years from now.

Jessica said...

Oh my gosh! LOL What an interesting tidbit. I think I'm going to google her name.
I'm wondering if perhaps she allowed him some intimacies thinking he'd marry her, and then he reneged.
Tsk, tsk. I feel more for her than for him.
That's a ton of money for back then too.

Anonymous said...

What a interesting post. Great info.