I had lived over twenty years without the legal right to be alone one hour—to have the exclusive use of one foot of space—to receive an unopened letter, or to preserve a line of manuscript
“From sharp and sly inspection.”
In the latter half of the nineteenth century, a Pennsylvania court decided that a husband had a right to open and read any communication addressed to his wife. Living as I did, under this law I had burned the private journal kept in girlhood, and the letters received from my brother, mother, sister and other friends, to preserve their contents from the comments of the farm laborers and female help, who, by common custom, must eat at our table and take part in our conversation. At the office I had received, read and burned, without answer, letters from some of the most prominent men and women of the era; letters which would be valuable history to-day; have, therefore, no private papers, and write this history, except a few public dates, entirely from memory.
Into the mists some rays of light penetrated, and by them I saw that the marriage contract by which I was bound, was that one which I had made and which secured my liberty of conscience and voice in choosing a home.
The fraud by which church, and state substituted that bond made for Saxon swine-herds, who ate boar’s heads, lived in unchinked houses and wore brass collars, in the days when Alfred the Great was king, was such as would vitiate any other contract, and must annul even that of marriage; but, granting that it was binding, it must bind both parties, and had been broken by the party of the other part through failure to comply with its requirements.
Our marriage had been a mistake, productive of mutual injury; but for one, it was not too late to repair the wrong. He, a man in the prime of life, with unspotted reputation, living without labor, on the income of a patrimonial estate, to which he had made large additions, could easily find a help-mate for him; one who could pad matrimonial fetters with those devices by which husbands are managed. My desertion would leave him free to make a new choice, and I could more easily earn a living alone.
The much-coveted and long-delayed birth of a living child appeared to have barred my appeal to this last resort, but the mother’s right to the custody of her infant is one I would defend to the taking of life.
My husband would consent to no separation, and we had a struggle for my separate, personal property or its equivalent; a struggle in which Wm. M. Shinn was my lawyer, and Judge Mellon his, and in which I secured my piano by replevin, Dr. John Scott being my bondsman, and learned that I might not call a porter into the house to remove my trunk. I therefore got my clothing, some books, china and bedding by stealth, and the assistance of half a dozen families of neighbors.