Cumberland Times-News

James Rada - Looking Back

April 1, 2012

Looking Back 1931: Depression keeps county couples together

2012 — Depression is good for Allegany County marriages. Economic depression, that is, not emotional depression.

The Cumberland Evening Times looked at the number of marriages, divorces and separations in the county at the end of 1931 and found a “marked decline in bills docketed while for September and October this year actions in court for separation and alimony have dwindled to almost nil.”

According to court clerks the reason for the decrease was the Great Depression, which had technically been going on for about two years at that point.

The Evening Times noted that a search of divorce records by courthouse clerks showed that when the economy is good, divorces increase, but when times are bad, couples work harder to patch up their differences to avoid the expense of divorce. However, there was also an increase of husbands simply leaving without bothering with getting a divorce.

This trend apparently held true if the wife worked as well as the husband. “It would appear that if the wife has a job and is working, the jealous husband who may have reason to believe he is the badly injured party, thinks twice, and reserves judgment before leaving home and seeing a lawyer,” the newspaper reported.

Even if the wife thought her husband was having an affair, she would wait until the economy was better before seeking a divorce. “As for the wife who has a cantankerous, lazy, indifferent or bad husband, whom she suspects of using the car at night for other than business purposes, the matter of endeavoring to sever the existing matrimonial contract is held in abeyance — until the industrial outlook is better and the possibility of getting alimony payments regularly each month from an employed husband would be more encouraging,” according to the Evening Times.

The clerks told the reporter that before the stock market crash in 1929 when times were still good, “the least little rift in the matrimonial lute, harsh words or domestic spat, frequently sent either husband or wife hurrying to a lawyer’s office, to pour out their pent-up feeling of mistreatment and seek legal surcease.”

Cabmen in the city also reported that increased unemployment hindered weddings because of the expense to even purchase a marriage license. “The cabmen report that a ‘double set’—two couples last week coming through Frostburg from a Pennsylvania town, stole a fine-blooded hound-dog that was friendly, brought him to Cumberland in their car, sold him to a hunter for $4 and financed their wedding licenses.”

Allegany County weathered the Great Depression well at the start. It had plenty of large industries that keep people working. The lifting of Prohibition after Franklin Roosevelt became President certainly improved business for Cumberland’s breweries. However, in the late 1930s, those industries were hit with labor strikes that led to lost jobs and lost pay.

Some people were able to get federal government jobs with the Works Progress Administration and Civilian Conservation Corp. These agencies worked on a lot of infrastructure projects, many of which still benefit county citizens today.

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James Rada - Looking Back
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