Divorce is Known as "Civil Death"

My character’s name is Charlotte Melanie Gardiner. She was the oldest living child of John William and Margaret Elizabeth Gardiner. Charlotte was born in 1817 on her family’s’ plantation in Georgia. She was named Charlotte Melanie, after her father’s grandmother, but was always called Charlotte, except by her mother who referred to her as “Mel”. She and her family were white Americans of English descent from Hertfordshire, England and ascribed as upper class. Her father owned a plantation with slaves who had been in his family’s possession for generations.

The year is 1833, and Charlotte is about to turn eighteen years old on April 5th and is the only married daughter from her siblings. She has black curly long hair, green eyes, and pale skin. Her style consists of large sleeved gowns hand-stitched by her mother along with a corset underneath that would hardly let her breathe followed by bonnets imported from Paris, giving her the fashionable Southern-belle look.

Her meals consisted of fresh vegetables, biscuits and gravy, barbecue and pastries stuffed with meringue, but in moderation of course, so she can keep her figure. I picked this specific period and character because it seemed the most intriguing to learn about when it came to the lifestyles for white females with wealthy backgrounds. Charlotte’s husband had been chosen for her since she was a child. His name was Nicholas Boynton and he was the son of James Stoddard Boynton, Georgia’s governor. He was ten years older and held a snobby attitude towards anyone he encountered.

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She held no real interest in him, but still felt it was best to go along with her parents’ decision. In the Subjection of Women by John Stuart Mills, females in this period were characterized as weak, emotional and in need to be “taken care of” by a man, resulting in fixed marriages from an early age.

During their first year together, Charlotte stumbled upon one of the house slaves being forced to have sexual relations with her husband. After confronting Nicholas, she was only to be beaten and denied. The couple gave birth to a boy, James Ashton Boynton, months after the accusation. Unfortunately, her encounters with this type of situation continued. This behavior was common because slaves were known to be a man’s property, and they could do as they pleased with their belongings. According to Women and the Law in Early 19th Century, a woman was not given the same value by society if they went along with a divorce, it was known as “civil death”. Charlotte did not agree with staying silent about her situation, so in 1848 she decided to speak up by anonymously publishing her experiences on being a housewife in the south. She knew she could never confess her identity without losing everything. In 1857, the Matrimonial Causes Act gave men the right to divorce their partners guilty of adultery.

A man could divorce if his wife committed unfaithful actions, but females did not hold the same ability (Histories par.4). Even the land that was once inherited to Charlotte was given to her husband upon marriage. It was unfair conditions like this that pushed the idea on female legal independence in the Jacksonian era. The primary source document I used for my research on the southern female, was a book written by John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, which stated a male’s perspective on the need of equal rights among both sexes in the late 1800s. Mill wrote this book with the help of his wife, Harriet Taylor Mill and his daughter, Helen Taylor, who provided him with ideas. As a male feminist, he stood by the belief of giving females the right to vote, which would allow them to play a bigger role in society. His writing was known to go against the social norm on females being primarily for the use of a husband.

My character would have agreed with his thoughts on social change for equality. Her situation with adultery would have been treated differently if females were given the same opportunities as men. There were numerous marriages like Charlottes’, filled with disloyalty and the belief of a wife having to be submissive, that took away a women’s value. I find this source to be reliable not only because Mills was a part of the same period and got to experience the matter for himself, but it was also stating the same ideas as other feminists today. Furthermore, in my characters’ background life and activities. Charlottes’ father, John William, owned a large cotton plantation in which she was brought up having multiple sources of colored help. Coming up from a wealthy upper-class family, she had the luxury of having a childhood nurse who was well-versed in Southern etiquette and oversaw to keep her in line. It was her duty to teach Charlotte how to behave around men in social events and maintain a proper diet.

Additionally, she supervised the upstairs maids and other house servants. Charlotte’s political views favored those of the Southern Democrat party. She was raised on the belief of needing slaves as part of her culture and its need to expand further west against northern Free-Soil opposition. Once married, Charlotte was only expected to birth babies and stay at home. Her husband, on the other hand, had no regard for her political opinions; instead, he thought of her as a pretty face to have around. The tradition for females to grow up being taught how to be housewives was almost inevitable in this period. Fortunately, it later brought women empowerment movements like the Seneca Falls Convention in New York, which discussed the rights of woman.

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Divorce is Known as "Civil Death". (2022, Nov 19). Retrieved from https://paperap.com/divorce-is-known-as-civil-death/

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