In the 19th century a man's claim on his wife did not necessarily end with their divorce. Abby McFarland, for instance, had been married for several years to her husband, Daniel, an often abusive alcolholic, before she decided to flee for safety. A neighbor, Albert Richardson, helped Abby arrange a trip to Indiana, where she lived for 16 months in order to obtain the divorce she could not get in New York.
Meanwhile, Abby's friendship with the widowed Richardson deepened through months of letter writing, and when she returned to New York City in October 1869, it was the pair's intention to be married. Still vengeful, however, McFarland got wind of the plan, stalked Richardson, and shot him. Richardson lived just long enough to marry Abby from his deathbed, and McFarland was charged with murder.
But many New Yorkers agreed with McFarland's lawyer that his client's actions were perfectly justified since the dead man had interfered with a husband's God-given right to posses his wife, whaterver her complaints. This, said the lawyer, was the "the law of the Bible; for one of the two parties is superior and the other inferior."
Women's rights activists, led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, demanded that McFarland either be
hanged or confined to an insane asylum. In a scathing denunciation of New York's divorce
laws, Stanton declared that "no matter what the character of the husband...the woman shall
continue to be his wife... though her flesh crawl and her soul sicken every time he enters
her presence." But her words did no good. McFarland left the courtroom not only free and
cleared but with custody of the couple's older son.
- Public Speakers Library
Ida Stern, 91, and her husband Simon Stern, 97,
of Milwaukee, Wis, were divorced on Feb 2, 1984,
in the circuit court of Milwaukee.
- Guinness Book of World Record