Project Canterbury

The Life and Labors of Bishop Hare
Apostle to the Sioux

By M.A. DeWolfe Howe

New York: Sturgis and Walton, 1911.

Chapter X. The Divorce Reform Campaign, 1893-1908

WHEN Bishop Hare first went to his work in Niobrara, the needs of the Indians and the measures for their improvement presented themselves in definite forms. Soon after the approximately even division of his work into the Indian and the white field, a need of the whites appeared with equal definiteness. This was the need for a clearer perception of the evil and danger in the prevalent views of divorce in South Dakota. The laws and their interpretation were such that the rapid and easy dissolution of the marriage bond became a byword not only at home but throughout the country. "Ask a schoolboy of Massachusetts what Sioux Falls is famous for," said a Sioux Falls newspaper, "and his answer will bring a blush to any loyal citizen of this city." These words were written late in the campaign for better conditions. The reputation on which they were based had been won chiefly in the final decade of the nineteenth century.

To a man of Bishop Hare's chivalric feeling towards women, and consequently towards the institution of marriage, the conditions were intolerable. As early as 1885, he said in his Convocation Address: "The notions which prevail in this country on the subject of Marriage and Divorce are lamentably lax. This laxity arises partly from the fact that it is taken for granted that marriages and divorces which are not condemned by the law of the land are therefore justifiable before the bar of conscience--a preposterous assumption. The laws of the land leave untouched vast provinces in the domain of morals. A drunken revel, if confined within the walls of one's house, is untouched by the law of the land; and so with jealousy, hate, envy, and nameless personal sins. It is by no means safe therefore to say, 'What the law allows must be right.' In the matter of marriage and divorce the law allows much that is not right." The law for Christians as laid down by Christ Himself and by the Church--in more than one of its branches--is then set forth in the Address. Within a few years the divergence between the law for Christians and the laws of South Dakota became more and more apparent. On Bishop Hare's return from Japan and China in 1892, he wrote to his daughter-in-law:

. . . "The rain, the deaths and, worse than all, the scandalous divorce mill which is running at Sioux Falls, with revelations of the silliness and wickedness of men and women, have made my return home a very gloomy one. I despise people who trifle with marriage relations so intensely that the moral nausea produces nausea of the stomach. I have a continual bad taste in my mouth. One of the------family, after cultivating our church in Sioux Falls and playing the role of an injured woman, has turned a disgusting somersault. She was accompanied by her adviser, so called,------by name, whom she married at once upon her divorce, and it turns out that he is one------, or some name of that kind! She gave $1,000 to put memorial windows to Mrs.------in the cathedral. They are here, but I won't have them. I'd as lief paste up the flaming placards of a low circus. I shall write the donor that her windows are subject to her order."

These windows which the donor, replying to his letter, asked him to dispose of as he might see fit, were the source of much perplexity, and lay long unopened in the basement of the cathedral at Sioux Falls. They illustrated but one of many personal complications. Another arose when after a long absence from South Dakota Bishop Hare was invited to dine at a house which he had formerly visited. To his astonishment he found not only the man of the house equipped with a new wife, but the former wife sitting at the table with her new husband. His chagrin was only increased by discovering that the great embarrassment which he felt in the situation was wholly unshared by the strangely assorted quartette. It is safe to assume that after the beginning of 1893 he was spared the awkwardness of other dinner-parties of this nature.

In 1893 he became definitely the leader of the campaign in South Dakota for a reform in the divorce laws of the state. A Pastoral Letter, dated January 11, 1893, addressed "To the Clergy and People of the Protestant Episcopal Church in South Dakota," speaks clearly for the position which he then took. The first part of it, he wrote, "is substantially the same as the statement prepared by me in connection with a petition to the Legislature." In this petition a number of ministers in Sioux Falls joined. They urged--in the words of The Church News--"not so much those high teachings, which, as ministers of the Gospel, they would preach from their pulpits, but those reforms which seemed to them to commend themselves at once to the ordinary morals of decent people and to practical legislators." The second part of the Pastoral was addressed, as Bishop Hare expressed it, "especially to those persons who are in any way connected with the church of which I am an officer." It is the first portion of the letter upon which, by reason of its more public bearing, attention may be fixed in this place.

On the very day on which the Pastoral Letter was dated, January 11, 1893, Bishop Hare wrote to his sister Mary: "I leave for something of a visitation to-morrow which will end up, with some days given to the Legislature at Pierre, where also I am to consecrate our little church. Imagine me in the lobby, 'the third house,' as they call it!" The petition was presented to the Legislature on January 23. By that time, although there was no organization for carrying on the movement and no appeal had been made to the general public for signatures, nine hundred names were subscribed to it; a supplementary list of five hundred was afterwards received. At Pierre the Lieutenant Governor, presiding over the Senate, invited Bishop Hare, according to The Church News, "to occupy a seat beside him during one of the sessions of that body, and by an unsolicited vote of the House of Representatives he was given the use of their Hall for the purpose of an address on the question of Marriage and Divorce. The judiciary committees of both houses gave him a patient and courteous hearing in joint session."

Of the plea which he made to the Legislature the printed statement accompanying the petition may be taken as an adequate expression. Since it is too long to quote entire, a few passages from the Pastoral Letter in which it is embodied will sufficiently represent it:

"We are drifting into polygamy! Simultaneous polygamy we brand with infamy and the supreme law of the land is invoked to extirpate it from the country; but consecutive polygamy has achieved, we now discover, under our loose divorce laws, a respectable status. There are cases not a few where one man, or one woman, has occupied the relation of husband or wife, as the case may be, to two, three, or four different living persons! And a case is known where a married daughter invited to her new husband's tea table, not her father and mother--sweet reunion! but her divorced father and his new wife and her mother from whom her father had been divorced and her new husband! They sat confronting each other,--and so low was conscience sunk that there was no shame.
"But, now, let us come nearer home. Have not we in South Dakota given an impetus to this downward progress by the laws on divorce which we allow to remain upon our statute book?

"By our law only the short period of ninety days' residence is required as a condition precedent to bringing an action for divorce. This has been well advertised, and thus people flock here from different states. They buy no dwellings, rent no dwellings, live transiently in hotels, swear they intend to reside here, sue parties 1,500 miles away, obtain their end, and disappear from our state forever, contributing nothing but some dollars, much moral hurt to the community, especially the young, and huge public scandal! . . .

"Of course, the ignoble part which our fair state has been made thus to play has its apologists. Some, honest and honorable. More, it is feared, because the divorce mills are profitable.

"Divorce litigation has brought large money, it is said, into our needy state. The business of the florists and jewelers has increased ten and twenty fold. Hotel proprietors are growing rich.

"Thus, unconsciously, those who reap the harvest are led to throw an attractive guise over what, but for their self-interest, would wear a hideous form. But, for the rest of us, we enter protest.

"The beauty of our florists' greenhouses departs when their chief patrons are those engaged in violating marriage vows!

"How long can decent matrons and modest maidens pay visits to friends at hotels when they feel that their presence there seems to put them in an equivocal position?

"How will our lawyers maintain their high calling as advocates of righteousness and virtue if their chief emolument and occupation come from so morally enervating a thing as the laxity of our laws on divorce?

"How long will our newspapers be a virtuous people's organ of expression if this dominating money interest shuts their indignant remonstrance out?

"The moral sense and higher sentiments of some are under a strange spell, but the people are asking how far the profits of a few are profitable to the people as a whole. They argue--If the divorce business is, as some represent, merely, or chiefly, the granting legitimate relief to injured wives and husbands who seek deliverance from faithless partners, why the purchase of so much costly jewelry and so many beautiful flowers? Does not this increase in these particular lines of business indicate that lovers are about, and that not compassion for wronged and broken-hearted husbands and wives is chiefly needed, but denunciation of those who, in the language of Scripture, 'creep into houses and lead captive silly women'?

"Does this high living (the wines and costly cigars) which proves so profitable to certain members of the community, indicate the presence of outraged husbands and wives, who, after grave thought, are seeking with sad hearts liberation from a bond whose sacredness has been violated by infidelity of the other partner, or the presence of persons who, while still married in the eyes of the law and of the 'One Law-Giver,' are already in love with others than their lawful partners and gay with the expectation of being soon declared free to gratify with the sanction of law their guilty passion?

"How much is this plea that our divorce proceedings advertise the country worth,--except to our adversaries? Do we wish to be famous? This makes us infamous. Would we have credit? This brings upon us discredit. We are the derision of the country. We who live here know well the richness of our soil, the wealth of our mineral, the cheeriness of our climate, the sweetness of our home-life, the certainty of our prosperous future; but the outside world exclaims, 'South Dakota! A state so God-forsaken and destitute of other attractions that, in despair of drawing even a fair portion of the crowding, honest immigrants who seek to make for themselves a home, it has resolved to secure the residence, at least for ninety days, of quarreling and unfaithful husbands and wives who dare not face the public virtue of their own homes! Sioux Falls, Yankton, Deadwood, etc.! Towns these whose people, lacking enterprise and public spirit enough to develop surrounding farms, stone quarries, mines, water powers, packing houses, woolen mills, have flung all scruples to the wind and are trying the venture of huge divorce mills! And this, though they know that this course will cast a shadow upon that which is really the basis of all stable prosperity, their educational institutions, their credit, and their home life!'

"The truth is, as we look upon Utah and Mormonism, somewhat so the better part of the population of other states look upon us. And some of us who love our state the best confess our residence with almost averted face, and sign our names on hotel registers with a feeling that it is a record of our shame. . . .

"Now let us proceed to the consideration of our South Dakota laws on the subject of marriage and divorce, and inquire how far they conform to the dignity and importance of the subject with which they deal. One needs to beware of the danger of bearing false witness in this matter and making the case worse than it is. We bear glad testimony to the fact that the law of South Dakota is far higher in its care for the sacredness of marriage than that of some other jurisdictions. In the first place, the causes for divorce are all defined, and defined, with a fair degree of exactness. In the second place, the causes of action are far less in number than in some other states, being only six, as follows:

"Two.--Extreme cruelty.
"Three.--Wilful desertion.
"Four.--Wilful neglect.
"Five.--Habitual intemperance.
"Six.--Conviction of felony.

"None of these causes, it will be seen, are trivial (though, alas, they may be interpreted in a trivial way); all are grave, though, we venture to think, several are altogether insufficient.

"Again, little is left to the discretion of the particular judge. There is no open door for the creeping in of all sorts of trivial causes such as are admitted by the phrase used in the statutes of some states, 'The discretion of the judge.'

"In the third place, our law gives dignity to marriage by requiring that marriage must be solemnized, authenticated and recorded. It does not give its imprimatur to a mere avowal that the parties take each other as man and wife.

"Fourthly, our law has a care for the protection of the weaker party, the defendant wife. It provides that, while the action for divorce is pending, the court may require the husband to pay as alimony any money necessary to enable the wife to support herself and her children and to prosecute or defend the action.

"Fifth, our law does not put a premium on adultery by allowing the guilty party to marry again and so get profit out of his own offense. The guilty party in a divorce granted for adultery may not marry again until after the death of the other.

"But thankful and proud as we are that South Dakota law has so many excellent features, we must submit that it is open to the gravest objection.

"First, because of causes which are declared to be adequate grounds for divorce. (We do not insist upon this nor discuss it here and now, for the time, perhaps, has not yet come, and there are amendments at present more feasible on which we would unite.)

"Second, because the law requires but 90 days' residence in order to give a party a right to sue here for divorce, while it requires six months' residence as sine qua non to acquire the right of citizenship.

"It is pleaded, we are aware, that those who come here seeking divorce come here seeking also to reside. The attractions of the state bring them and not the notoriety of the state as one in which there are conveniences for obtaining divorce. We meet the statement with the question:

"1st. How many of the divorce-seeking persons who came to South Dakota during the last three years with the declared intention to reside are now residents of the state? How many remained a week? Is it not well known that after the decree, the divorcées can generally hardly stem their impatience to be off till the departure of the next train?

"We may add that the law does not require sufficient evidence of intention to reside permanently in South Dakota. It requires only that the applicant should have been 'in good faith a resident of the state for ninety days next preceding the commencement of the action.' How inadequate this provision is appears from this, that as a matter of fact the mode of life which suggests a transient stay, hotel life, is held to be quite sufficient for its fulfillment.

"The evil would not be so great if the law offered its liberal provisions for divorce only to our own people. Why should it invite persons from abroad? If such persons marry and live and quarrel outside South Dakota, why should they be allowed to come here and scandalize us with the litigation and disaster with which they end up their connection?

"Moreover, if the prosecutor in a divorce suit is a right-living, faithful partner who has suffered such grievous injury from the other party that he has good reason for divorce, why should not the suit be brought where the parties have dwelt, where the fidelity and forbearance of the injured partner are well known, where the witnesses are at hand, and where the innocent party may repose upon the sympathy of approving neighbors? Why, we ask, should the laws be such that a husband dwelling in Virginia may leave his wife, avowedly for business purposes, but really to keep company in another town with a woman who has bewitched him, then drive the wife to seek refuge with friends, then audaciously appear here in South Dakota, 1,500 miles from the scene of his own and his wife's life, bring suit against her for desertion and drag the poor soul--timid, sensitive, ignorant of court rooms and court processes--out here among strangers if she would adequately defend her honor?

"Again, the law is seriously defective, we submit, in that adequate service of summons on the respondent is not absolutely required.

"Publication in a newspaper is necessary, but what likelihood is there that publication in a Sioux Falls paper will reach a wife living in Georgia or Virginia?

"It is replied that the law provides that the complaint and summons shall be mailed to the person to be served at his place of residence unless it appears by affidavit that the residence is unknown and cannot, with reasonable diligence, be ascertained. But, is not this provision a simple farce? What man who has spent ninety days in Sioux Falls away from his wife and purposely keeping himself in ignorance of where she might have fled for succor, could not swear that he did not know and could not find out where she dwelt!

"The Dakota law is open to grave criticism, again, because, besides requiring only three months' residence (residence which may be, and generally is no real residence at all), it hurries the divorce proceedings on with perilous and indecent haste to the conclusion. The action for the dissolution of this most sacred bond may be begun, continued and ended all within seventy-two days, and all this though the case may be tried in South Dakota while the defendant lives in Virginia or Florida, or anywhere else in the United States, however remote.

"The Dakota law is open to grave censure, again, because the conclusion to which the action is allowed to hurry on, is a catastrophe--divorce, final, complete, absolute. The marriage has ceased to be. The very bond itself is broken and forever. There is no provision for mere separation for a season. The parties are permitted to take no remedy but absolute divorce.

"Other codes have provision by which the decree of the court is at first only provisional. Time is given for reflection and for the revelation of further facts. Thus opportunity is afforded for amending or changing the decree, and for the parties to review their, perhaps, hasty action, and come together again. But under our code there is no room for change or repentance. Instantly upon the judgment of the court the parties become the subject of an irrevocable decree. The evils are many; among others, this: a married person desiring to marry again finds little to curb desire, and the indecencies which result stare us in the face. Parties still lawfully married are stimulated to courtship by the knowledge that, though married, but seventy days stand between them and the gratification of their unlawful passion. Parties come here accompanied by the person who is to supplant the lawful husband or wife, and an hour or two only elapses after divorce before the lovers are married in the very presence of the awful disaster which disrupted the former tie! Surely, such a desperate measure of relief as absolute divorce should not be the one remedy for unhappy marriages spread upon the page of our statute book.

"Most earnestly we ask, Is not our law in too much of a hurry? Should it so soon resort to amputation? Might it not administer the discipline of 'limited divorce' and 'divorce with alimony' in the hope that health will return and the union be restored? Might we not trust more to the vis medicatrix naturae? . . .

"Reviewing the whole subject, both absolutely and in its bearings upon the divorce laws of South Dakota, we cannot but think our code needs amendment and that the petition accompanying this statement of the case is opportune, and demanded by the state of the law."

The immediate result of this first appeal for reform is set forth in Bishop Hare's own words in his diocesan paper: "It will be a source of intense satisfaction to many lovers of virtue and the domestic hearth to know that the efforts which were made in behalf of the removal from the divorce laws of South Dakota of some of their objectionable features met with a large measure of success. Six months' residence is now required instead of ninety days as heretofore and the requirement regarding service of summons on the defendant has been so improved as to leave much less room for wrong." Bishop Hare's personal contribution to this achievement was recognized not only in South Dakota, but, as the newspapers of many cities bore witness, throughout the country.

The fight, however, was by no means won. Though the reform of the laws in 1893 was regarded by the opponents of easy divorces as merely a step in the right direction, another class of the community found their incomes seriously affected by the falling off of the "divorce trade" and in 1895 organized an effort to have the laws reamended in their own interest. On February 8, 1895, Bishop Hare sent to two newspapers in Sioux Falls a letter which only one of them, the Argus-Leader, printed. It read as follows:

"Newspapers are generally understood to be sources of information to which their less well-informed subscribers may appeal for enlightenment.

"May I therefore ask you, as I have been absent from South Dakota for some weeks, what credit in your opinion should be given to the following statements which have come to me from a credible source:

"First. That an effort is being made to induce the present legislature to change the present divorce law of South Dakota, so that the plaintiff can begin proceedings immediately on his arrival in South Dakota. The law at present requires six months' antecedent residence. Of course the right to begin proceedings at once would make South Dakota a more attractive field for persons tired of their matrimonial obligations; for passion always seeks immediate gratification, and passion, as experience shows, is often, if not generally, back of a suit for divorce.

"Second. That a subscription paper has been circulated among lawyers, jewelers, innkeepers and others for the purpose of raising a large amount of money to maintain a lobby at Pierre with the end of securing legislation of the kind above described.

"Third. That a tacit understanding has been arrived at by which reporters will refrain from keeping the public informed of the progress of this movement in the hope that it may slip through before the public can be aroused.

"Yours very truly,

"W. H. HARE."

Three days later, that the public might surely be aroused, Bishop Hare joined with the Rev. W. H. Thrall, an influential minister of the Congregational Church, and other representative men in sending out an appeal "To the People" for signatures to a remonstrance and petition against the passage by the House of Representatives of a divorce bill already favorably reported by the judiciary committee of the Senate. Again the appeal to public opinion was successful. The House rejected the measure, and Bishop Hare wrote with satisfaction: "The proposed amendment was manifestly not meant to relieve our own citizens who were not happily mated. It added nothing to their rights and privileges. It was distinctly a bid for divorce business from outside. It was evidently intended to advertise South Dakota to the country at large as a place of easy divorces, and to offer inducements to non-residents, who are tired of their conjugal relations, to come here and tell in the ears of our courts and to our people the humiliating and often disgusting details of violated marriage vows. It deserved the defeat which it received."

For a time there was nothing more to be done with the Legislature. But with his own flock, in his annual Convocation Addresses and in other ways, Bishop Hare continued to urge the sanctity of domestic life and a stricter enforcement of the laws of the Church regarding divorce and remarriage. Even as early as 1895 he made a special plea for the very course which the General Convention of 1904 established by law--that a clergyman asked to remarry an innocent divorced person should not be satisfied merely with that person's statement regarding the guilt of the former husband or wife, but should secure unquestionable proof of it. In 1906 the Governor of South Dakota appointed him a delegate to the convention in Washington to secure uniform divorce laws throughout the country. This convention reached certain positive conclusions, and submitted them in printed form to the state legislatures. In South Dakota certain lawyers opposed the proposed changes, but the Bar Association at its annual meeting gave its approval to three of them, and these were adopted by the legislature of 1907. Such, however, was the influence of those enterprising citizens who, in the language of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, took advantage of their golden opportunity "just as they would prepare for grain shipments or for the mule trade or 'traffic in hogs,' " that the adoption of the new provisions was delayed until a referendum vote of the people should pass upon them in the November election of 1908. For those who opposed reform this was a dangerous expedient. Twice before, Bishop Hare and his fellow-workers for better conditions had gone direct to the people, and had won their case. Again they prepared an appeal. It was printed in almost all of the nearly three hundred weekly papers of the State, in many dailies, and in the form of galley proof nearly one hundred thousand copies were distributed through the Christian congregations of South Dakota. The name of Bishop Hare, stricken in years and tortured by the physical sufferings which were soon to end his life, headed the list of those who commended it to the attention of the people of South Dakota. At the very beginning of the pamphlet there is a statement in popular terms of the gist of the new statutes "which practically said to the pro tern, immigrants from other States seeking divorce in South Dakota:

"First, you have abused our law which gives you, after six months' residence, liberty to sue for divorce in our courts. Hereafter you cannot import conjugal scandals from other States into South Dakota courts unless you have resided here in good faith for one whole year.

"Second, you cannot take up residence in one county and slip off to some unknown county and bring your suit for divorce and make publication of it there. You must bring your suit where you actually live.

"Third. You must bridle your passion. You can not hurry your case through by pushing it before the judge in his private room at the time which suits you. You must bring it at a regular term of court."

The arguments for the laws and their final enactment are then set forth with precision and vigor.

The traces of Bishop Hare's hand are clear upon this pamphlet. Nor did he satisfy himself with writing in the interest of the laws. In a memorial meeting at Sioux Falls about six months after his death, the Hon. Edwin A. Sherman, of Sioux Falls, touching upon Bishop Hare's part in the divorce reform campaign, said: "It was scarce eighteen months ago that the Bishop asked me to accompany him to the Business Men's Club that he might plead with them on this subject. Though many of the club were in sympathy with the law for business reasons, they received the Bishop with the greatest courtesy and respect. It was an incident pathetic in the extreme and one which will never be effaced from my memory. I see him now, the venerable, white-haired man, with feeble, trembling form, his body racked with pain, standing boldly for the right and pleading with the business men for their assistance. Thank God, he lived to see the city and the state purged of this evil."

The popular vote was decisively in favor of the new enactments. Bishop Hare's last campaign for the good of his community and his country was fought and won. That it was clearly recognized as his campaign appeared in many ways. One of the most definite recognitions was that of Bishop O'Gorman, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Sioux Falls, who spoke at the memorial meeting to which allusion has just been made: After dealing in general terms with the old and new conditions of divorce in South Dakota he said: "These were Bishop Hare's ideas as I learned them in conversation and correspondence with him; for I joined forces with him in the fight he led against this evil thing. We were allies in doing away with it. He led the fight, step by step he fought, forcing the limit of residence from three months to six, from six to twelve. . . . Morally and financially we are all the better for the Christian courage of Bishop Hare. To him, the Defender of the Home, honor and the gratitude of South Dakota!"

Those who follow the daily news in America have already become accustomed to the substitution of Reno for Sioux Falls as the source of items of a certain order. How largely Bishop Hare was responsible for this substitution, the reader of these pages has been made aware. He may also remind himself that it was a fitting climax to a lifetime of devoted social and spiritual service that, having done what he could for the race to which he was originally sent, Bishop Hare gave his energies at the last to a cause the triumph of which marked a distinct progress in the people of his own race on the highway of civilization.

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