The divorce rate in the United States hovers between 40-50% of all marriages ending.
This seems shocking and many critics argue we have lost some moral compass or ability to tough out a relationship. Yet historically this was not always the case, and often women lacked the right to walk away form a relationship without damaging their identity, rights to their children, or even putting their life at risk. While men were often accepted in desertion of a wife and family, as still even happens today.
In the 1850s fault-based divorce was attainable, in the case of abuse, mental abuse and sometimes adultery. By the 1870s these regulations were more common and by the 1890s California, Montana and Wyoming had adopted these laws. With more than half of the divorces for such reasons in California coming from unskilled laboring classes. These legal expansions were seen as a way for women to have more rights to walk away from unfortunate marriages and seek safety. Inadvertently these laws allowed for women to have higher standing in their homes and more rights in the society they lived in.
All of these events would dove-tail together to encourage and expand women’s right movements in education, suffrage and temperance. In 1893 women could vote in Colorado, and three other states granted the vote to women before the century was out. With California granting suffrage in 1911, and Arizona, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington all granted suffrage by 1914.
Though these movements have not ended domestic violence, drunkenness and other plights of humanity, they did shed light on epidemics and a need for women to have more of a voice in a changing and expanding world. These movements carry with us today as we face new challenged with women’s rights and seek to find new ways to build each other and society up.