When marriages fail: Divorce in nineteenth-century Texas
Blum, Francelle L.
Boles, John B.; Hobby, William P.
Doctor of Philosophy
Divorce in nineteenth-century Texas was rooted in social customs as much as law, with class, gender, and race serving as strong influences on marital experiences and decisions to divorce. Legal divorce took place primarily at the local level, with the option of appeal to the Texas Supreme Court. Under Mexican rule, Anglo settlers had no option for divorce, and marital status was itself often uncertain, resulting in the practice of bond marriage (marriage by contract). For a short time under the Republic of Texas, a few Texans sought legislative divorce. However, judicial divorce soon became the standard practice and remained so throughout the century. This study is based on a reading of 1,578 local divorce cases from Harrison and Washington Counties. An extensive database including all available information on the litigants of each case provides insight into the influences of class, race, gender, kinship, and community on divorce. Although culturally very southern, Texas was also a western frontier and a community-property state. A combination of property protections based on Spanish law, frontier attitudes, and southern paternalism assured Texas women of a relatively high legal status. The Texas divorce law of 1841 remained intact throughout the nineteenth century with only minor changes. With remarkable legal persistence, social factors were the most evident influences on marital expectations and divorce. Chapters are laid out chronologically. Chapter One examines the statutory context of Texas divorce. Chapter Two addresses marital dissolution in the earliest phase of Anglo settlement and under the Republic of Texas, with an emphasis on frontier circumstances and changing political identities. Chapter Three examines divorce under antebellum statehood with an eye toward social hierarchy. Chapter Four discusses the impact of the Civil War and the actions of divorce seekers in postwar Texas, with emphasis on kinship and community influences as well as changing expectations for marriage. Chapter Five deals with the unique experiences of African American divorce seekers in Texas after 1865.
Black history; American history; Women's studies