Divorce & the Definition of Drunkenness

I came across the following 1910 newspaper article while doing genealogy research.  Amy Hawkins Calvert was my father’s midwife.  What is it they say about comedy?  Comedy is tragedy that happens to somebody else.  And, tragedy plus time equals comedy.  Mrs. Calvert did finally manage to obtain her desired divorce a year later on the ground of desertion, and never remarried.  A professional maid / housekeeper all her adult life, Amy was once asked why she didn’t marry the elderly gentleman who was her last client.  She said that it wouldn’t benefit her, as she would be doing the same work, but wouldn’t be getting paid.




Judge Johns Gives Definition of Drunkenness.


Divorce Can’t Be Given On That Ground Alone.


   Judge Johns granted four more divorces in the circuit court Saturday afternoon and heard the pleas in three other cases in which he did not grant any decrees.  The latter three were more interesting than the others.
   Amy Calvert wanted a divorce from Frank Calvert, but on her own definition of the word drunkenness she failed to make out a case to the satisfaction of the court, although she had as a witness the mother of the defendant.  The charge was drunkenness, and Mrs. Calvert told in a weak voice that ever since they had been married Frank had spent his money for booze.  He got so he didn’t care a hang how he looked or how she looked, or whether the bills were ever paid or not.  Nothing at all worried him when he was drinking, and the testimony all went to show that when drinking he was better natured than he ever was when sober.  His wife couldn’t say that she ever saw him stagger, although she knew he was drunk.
“What is your definition of drunkenness?” asked the court.
“Well,” replied Mrs. Calvert, “when a man spends all the money he can get for drink and don’t care for anything else and won’t provide for his family, I think he would be called drunk.”
“But what does he do when drinking that makes him appear drunk?”
“Why, he acts silly and is altogether too loving.”
   Then the mother of the defendant testified that Mr. Calvert was one of the best boys in the world until after he got married; that he did begin spending his money for drink soon after his marriage and that he would spend it for drink as long as he had any money to spend, would neglect his family and go away and stay nearly a year.  On two occasions he went away and each time he was gone a year lacking a day.  When he came back the first time he remained at home two months and a half.  When he returned after his second vacation he remained four or five weeks and has been gone ever since November.  He is about due to return again now.  She said that no one could tell he was drunk by looking at him as he never staggered, could always take care of himself, and looked the same as he always did, except that he would do foolish things when drinking, but that he was always in a good humor when drinking.
   “Well,” said Judge Johns, “you haven’t established a case according to the legal definition of drunkenness, which requires a man to be in such condition as to be incapable of taking proper care of himself.  To be an habitual drunkard he must have been in that condition twice in a year.  “There is a vast difference between drinking and drunkenness.  The drinking habit is a good reason for not getting married, but it won’t help out much as a ground for divorce.  The bill is dismissed for want of equity.”


I don’t know what became of Frank Calvert, but I like to imagine that he went travelling with a giant invisible rabbit named Harvey.






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