Saturday, September 5, 2015

What Acts Constituted "Extreme Cruelty" and Could Lead to Divorce 100 Years Ago?

While researching a divorce case believed to be the brother of my great, great grandmother, I came across a book on Google Books that tells of those acts of "extreme cruelty" which could make a divorce possible. The book is dated 1917 and the list was quite enlightening!

It starts by stating "it is not essential that the misconduct charged as extreme cruelty should be of a criminal character, or such as the guilty party can be prosecuted for in the criminal courts, but it is sufficient if the acts are such as are calculated to destroy the plaintiff's happiness, and have that effect."

(image from Wikipedia)
Here are the "acts of extreme cruelty" listed, with my favorite being listed last:
  • ...the persistent circulation of false and slanderous reports by a husband, derogatory to his wife's chastity, especially when the wife is of a refined and sensitive nature...
  • ...the persistent, willful, and habitual conduct of a wife toward her husband in an offensive and opprobrious manner, accusing him in public and private of infamous conduct in violation of his marriage duties, and calling him vile and vulgar names...
  • Consorting with persons of loose morals, or lascivious inclinations toward the opposite sex, and showing or expressing a preference for them...
  • The communication of a venereal disease... 
  • personal violence
  • violence and threats of injury
  • fault finding, nagging, profanity, abuse and violent conduct
  • compelling a wife to submit to an abortion
  • unreasonably and persistently prejudicing children against their mother
  • unreasonable refusal of intercourse by the wife
  • persistently addressing the wife in brutal language, accusing her of adultery, perjury and fraud
  • profane, obscene and insulting language, habitually indulged in towards a wife of refined feelings and sensitive nature
  • accusations against the wife of immoral or unchaste conduct
  • calling vile names and persistently and without cause charging dishonesty and infidelity
  • wife calling husband opprobrious names, accusations of immorality, and unreasonable refusal of cohabiation
  • abusive epithets applied by the wife, and refusal to prepare meals
Source: The Michigan Law of Marriage and Divorce: with Forms of Procedure Conforming to the Michigan Judicature Act" by James M. Powers, 1917, online at ttp:// (accessed 05 Sep 2015) 


  1. This was such a great post. I had indexed a number of divorce records and wondered what the term could mean. I'll admit to thinking the worst!

    1. I agree! I had no idea these acts would fall under "extreme cruelty." I had an entirely different picture in mind, too.

  2. Wow! This is really interesting. Love the one "unreasonable refusal of intercourse by the wife...wonder what was their definition of "unreasonable"? I agree with Devon Lee this is a great post, as usual!

    1. Hmmmm..... I wonder what "unreasonable refusal" would be, too! And, thanks for the comment and compliment. I just love all of the interesting things we uncover as we seek to learn more about the lives of our ancestors.

  3. Dana,

    I want to let you know that your blog post is listed in today's Fab Finds post at

    Have a wonderful weekend!

    1. Jana, I'm glad you enjoyed the post and thank you for sharing it on your Fab Finds! I enjoy your weekly lists and seeing what new things I can discover.

  4. Wonderful list, very informative. Thank you, Jana, for putting it in the spotlight.

    1. Thanks, Yvette! I had assumed "extreme cruelty" consisted of very violent acts. It was nice to find out that it could mean a whole range of things!


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