A Policeman’s Advice to Wives, 1912

When Mrs Quan of St Louis put in a divorce petition against her husband in 1912, the Judge made a rather unusual decision. In what sounds like an idea for a reality show, he appointed a policeman, Patrick J. Egan, “to supervise the domestic affairs of the couple, and to visit their home daily for thirty days.” Mr Egan’s qualifications in this regard apparently being that “I have had a long talk with my wife. She and I have been married sixteen years, and we have never had a quarrel. This one qualification I have brought to this job of peacemaker.”

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 17th September 1912

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 17th September 1912

Mr Egan visited, he supervised and he talked with Mrs Quan “on her attitude towards her husband and his treatment of her”. He then came up with a list of precepts, and it didn’t take him long to do it – at the time of this article, he’d only completed 15 of the designated 30 visits.

This was his advice.

Don’t remonstrate with your husband when he has been drinking. Wait until next morning. Then give him a cup of coffee for his headache. Afterwards lead him into the parlour, put your arms about him and give him a lecture. It will have more weight with him than any number of quarrels.

If he has to drink, let him have it at home.

Avoid mothers-in-law. Don’t let them live with you or interfere in your affairs.

If you must have your own way, do not let your husband know you are trying to boss him. Have your own way by letting him think he is having his.

Dress to suit your husband’s taste and income. Husbands usually don’t like their wives to wear tight dresses. Consult him on these matters.

Don’t be jealous or give your husband cause for jealousy.

When your husband is in a bad humour be in a good humour. It may be difficult but it will pay.

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 17th September 1912

Sheffield Evening Telegraph, 17th September 1912

What did the Quans do with this advice? They had it printed, framed and placed in the sitting room. They were reportedly delighted with the “policeman-philosopher” and “presented the saviour of their marital bliss with a handsome token of their gratitude in the form of a gold watch.”

Now. I don’t want to be the pourer of cold water all over this marital bliss, but come on.

For one thing, Mrs Quan was the instigator of the divorce, which rather implies some kind of unreasonable conduct on the part of her husband. And yet, she’s the only one to be talked to, and the only one given advice on how to alter her behaviour. Plus, Mr Egan has only visited 15 times so far and so he came up with his advice pretty quickly. Assuming the list was drawn up after the first week, then this has given the Quans eight whole days to put this advice into action, including alerting the media on their state of bliss, commissioning a printer and framer to display the advice, and going gold watch shopping to boot. Well, I hope it worked out for them, but it seems a bit too soon to declare everything was fixed, don’t you think?

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  1. September 5, 2015

    […] of the Second World War. It’s almost the counter advice to a previous post of mine – a policeman’s advice to wives from 1912. There, the policeman counsels a wife to “Have your own way by letting him think he is having […]

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