Is “peevish” an adequate defense in an ugly divorce suit?

Got a real antique for you today. Here’s the story:

One of my good friends has been digging into her family history, compiling a genealogical chart. In the course of her explorations, she recalled an odd peripheral tale of an aunt who had married her boss, until she learned that he hadn’t actually divorced his first wife. Upon which the aunt left him and had the “marriage” annulled.

Gumshoeing, my friend Googled the name of her not-really uncle. And what she found is both wonderful and horrible: a really old (1920) article in the New York Times archives about the non-uncle’s divorce proceedings from his real wife.

There are three aspects to this story that astound me. First, the guy who didn’t marry my friend’s aunt was apparently a monster, at least to his real wife. The Times headline reads “Prof. Gowin’s wife says he beat her —Frequent Attacks Because of Husband’s Violent Temper, Alleged in Suit. POUNDED WITH TENT STAKE Fists, Boots and Ruler Said to Have Been Used…” And that’s only a tiny portion of what he did to her. So let’s tip our hats to the wife for bringing her suit into the courtroom and describing her husband’s behavior. How many women today would do this?

Second, after the wife thus described her treatment at her husband’s hands, the professor’s defense, according to the Times headline was: his wife was “peevish.” Peevish. That has become my friend’s new favorite word.

But the third thing that amazes me is that this headline and this story was in not a tabloid but in The New York Times. The staid Gray Lady.

(My friend has instituted a series of explorations that she, her husband and I take to exotic locales in New York available by public transportation. We’ve been to Tottenville on Staten Island and just visited the Louis Kahn-designed Four Freedoms memorial on Roosevelt Island. In fact, it was on Roosevelt Island where she told me the story of her aunt’s narrow escape. Maybe, given the specifics of this story, we can next do a day’s pilgrimage to all the NYC addresses cited in the lawsuit as places where Prof. Gowin beat his poor wife, Lucy. Oh, just in case we don’t do it, here’s the list in case you want to do this circuit: 126 West 85th Street, 145 Audubon Avenue, 47 West 52nd Street, 9 West 47th Street, 90 West Broadway.)

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