Getting a divorce in New York State was extraordinarily difficult around the turn of the century. The fact that this woman, after just seven years of marriage, went all the way to South Dakota to get one suggests that she was particularly desperate. This was in 1896. However, it was ruled that the divorce was not valid in New York. So the woman was apparently forced to return to New York and her husband.
HENRY RUSSELL DROWNE, who was a well-to-do merchant, then decided to bring an action for divorce in 1908, after 19 years of marriage. (We know that Drowne was rich, because his 1934 obituary mentions that he was "widely known as a collector of coins, paintings, antiques, and Americana.") Their son, who must have been conceived after the South Dakota "divorce," was then about 10 years of age.
Daddy got custody--and then promptly shipped the child off to boarding school in Newton, Massachusetts. The timing certainly suggests that getting rid of the boy and keeping him from his mother was the main motivation here. Certainly sounds like a cruel and controlling move to me. No wonder the mother had been so desperate all those years before. At this point, the father doesn't even have the final decree of divorce.
Anyway, after "chafing under the restrictions there" (translation: after chafing under the abusive conditions in a turn-of-the century New England boarding school while simultaneously grieving for the loss of his mother), the boy runs away. The boy manages to make telephone contact with his mother, who makes an all-night trip to come get him. The mother, who is obviously trying to follow the oppressive rules of the court, then contacts the father to meet them at Grand Central Station in New York. Daddy shows up alright--with his attorney. When the boy realized that he was going to be forcefully separated from his mother once more, he fought back. He even managed to land a few punches squarely on the attorney's face. This level of resistance certainly suggests that the boy's aversion was very high--most likely because of abuse in the father's home.
However, the Times tells us that "peace was restored" and that "the quartet drove away."
I sincerely doubt that peace was restored at any rate. Daddy's final divorce decree affirmed his custody of the boy. This is one of those stories where you wonder what eventually happened to this boy and his mother.
Have things really changed that much in 100 years? You tell me.
From the New York Times, May 16, 1909.
DIVORCE FOR DROWNE AND CUSTODY OF CHILD
Dakota Decree Obtained by Wife of Woolen Merchant Declared Invalid.
BOY A SCHOOL RUNAWAY
Mother Brought Him to This City and Boy Made a Scene When Surrendered to His Father.
Supreme Court Justice Gerard signed the final decree of divorce yesterday in favor of Henry Russell Drowne of the firm of Mann & Drowne, woolen merchants at 61 Leonard Street, who lives at 147 West Thirty-Sixth Street, in his action against Louisa Forsythe Drowne. The father gets the custody of htier son, 11 years old.
The Drownes were married on July 3, 1889, and in 1896 Mrs. Drowne left her husband and went to South Dakota, where she got a divorce, which was held invalid in this State. About May last year Mr. Drowne brought an action for divorce and got an interlocutory decree. He obtained custody of the boy, and subsequently placed him in a school at Newton, Mass. Chafing under the restrictions there, the boy, with a companion, ran away, having decided to get back to New York. The youngsters' trip ended at a farm near Natick, not many miles from Newton. The Drowne boy told the farmer that he was trying to get to New York, and that if would telephone to his mother she was sure to come and get him.
This was done and after an all-night trip Mrs. Drowne reached her son. She telephoned to her husband in Boston to meet them at the Grand Central Station here, and Mr. Drowne and his counsel were one hand when the train came in. When the boy learned that he was to be separated from his mother a lively scene took place. He fought his father and the attorney, landed several times on the latter's face, and sent his glasses flying. The scrimmage was witnessed by a large number of people, but peace was restored and the quartet drove away.