My grandmother on the maternal side was Gladys Ethelyn Griffin Crittenden. She was born and grew up in Laconia, Belnap New Hampshire. She married my Grandfather George Crittenden in 1917 in Montreal and had my mother in 1929. She died at the age of 39 and no mention of her daughter was mentioned in her obit.
When I was a child I heard whispers that I am sure children were not supposed to hear. I knew my Grandfather had a few women that were not my Grandmothers, but one was not supposed to talk about things like that. For years I wondered why the name Cecile was said with a horrified face.
One day at a 10 am Church service I was sitting with my grandmother in our usual pew when someone with heavy perfume tapped my grandmother on the shoulder. My grandmother quickly looked at me in horror and her lips became pursed. The strange woman waved to me and my grandmother clutched my hand very quickly and told me not to speak to her.
Well, I thought, here we are in a place of God and my grandmother is not being too neighbourly. The church service ended and we left quickly. It did not stop the lady and she followed quickly behind us. In fact, she followed us all the way home, and into the verandah where she sat down on one of the chairs. My grandmother instructed me to go into the kitchen while she talked to this woman.
The woman quickly vanished after my grandmother spoke to her and I don’t think I ever saw her again. My grandfather had just passed away in Seattle and apparently it had something to do with that. My grandmother said she wanted money and expected to be in the will as she was “Cecile”. I never found out who “Cecile” really was until today. I just assumed that she was one of my grandfather’s former girlfriends.
My mother from the ages of 14-18 was in the Ste Agathe Sanitarium because she had tuberculosis and had one lung removed. I heard the stories many times about my Grandfather’s wife that had burned all my mother’s things and sold her piano because she had convinced my grandfather that my mother was coming back. But was that true? When my mother was released she never did go back to Park Extension in Montreal, and instead went to Cowansville, Quebec to work at Bruck Mills.
Apparently my mother not coming home and being an only child caused a rift between my grandfather and Cecile and the marriage went south. Really south.There was no uniform federal divorce law in Canada until 1968 and this was the very early 50s. Instead, there was a patch-work of divorce laws in the different provinces, depending on the laws in force in each province at the time it joined Confederation. In Quebec, the Civil Code of Lower Canada declared that “Marriage can only be dissolved by the natural death of one of the parties; while both live it is indissoluble”.
The English Matrimonial Causes Act 1857 provided that a husband could sue on grounds of adultery alone, but a wife would have to allege adultery together with other grounds.The only way for an individual to get divorced in the provinces where there was no divorce law—as well as in cases where the domicile of the parties was unclear—was to apply to the federal Parliament for a private bill of divorce. These bills were primarily handled by the Senate of Canada where a special committee would undertake an investigation of a request for a divorce. If the committee found that the request had merit, the marriage would be dissolved by an Act of Parliament.
So today, I found out that my Grandfather had to apply to Parliament for a divorce on the grounds of adultery.
Of George Arthur Crittenden, of Montreal, Quebec; praying for the passage of an Act to dissolve his marriage with Cecile David Crittenden. 1953 November
MONDAY, 7th December, 1953. The Standing Committee on Divorce beg leave to make their one hundred and twentieth Report, as follows:- 1. With respect to the petition of George Arthur Crittenden, of the city of Montreal, in the province of Quebec, clerk, for an Act to dissolve his marriage with Cecile David Crittenden, the Committee find that the requirements of the Rules of the Senate have been complied with in all material respects. 2. The Committee recommend the passage of an Act to dissolve the said marriage. All which is respectfully submitted. W. M. ASELTINE, Acting Chairman.
Crittenden. George Arthur Petition, 40; reported, 125; adopted, 136. Bill (N-4)-lst, 2nd and/3rd, 153-154. Passage by Corns., 245. Message, 246. R.A., 279. Ch. 161.
So I am assuming it was easier for a man to get a divorce from his wife in those days and since adultery was the only way to get a divorce– the woman had to suck it up.
So, maybe the story was all wrong from the beginning and I am starting to give Cecile the benefit of the doubt even though she was not kind to my mother. Maybe she did have an agreement with my grandfather that he said: ‘ If I get this divorce using you as the ‘ bad guy” I will leave you something in my will”.
Quebec has been slow on giving civil rights to married women: until 1954, a married woman was legally listed as “incapable of contracting”, together with minors, “interdicted persons”, “persons insane or suffering a temporary derangement of intellect … or who by reason of weakness of understanding are unable to give a valid consent”, and “persons who are affected by civil degradation”
The removal of the married woman from this list, however, did little to improve her legal situation, due to marriage laws which restricted her rights and gave the husband legal authority over her: legal incapacity was still the general rule until 1964. A woman did not have equal rights with her husband regarding children until 1977.
So why else would she have turned up after he had passed away 20 years later– had not something been promised to her for a facility in the divorce. After all- she was labelled the bad guy in family stories.
I guess we will never know now, but now I know the rest of the story.
Did you know?
It has been argued that one of the explanations for the current high rates of cohabitation in Quebec is that the traditionally strong social control of the church and the Catholic doctrine over people’s private relations and sexual morality, resulting in conservative marriage legislation and resistance to legal change, has led the population to rebel against traditional and conservative social values and avoid marriage altogether. Since 1995, the majority of births in Quebec are outside of marriage; as of 2015, 63% of births were outside of marriage.