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Mormonism in New York

c. January 1911 — Ragged Edge Klub, New York City


New York Mormons may be divided into three classes — The Traveling Mormon, the Thoughtless Mormon and the Kindly Mormon.

A fair sample of the Traveling Mormon was abroad in the land some three years ago: to be seen here and there at clubs, parties and balls.

He was the escort of a girl from Brooklyn.

This girl was invariably accompanied by her mother, and that was well; for the young man had a wife and five small children in the Bronx.

He told me this quite frankly, so he must have told it to others.

Indeed, it was pretty generally known to everybody but those most concerned — the mother and the girl — up to the time of the marriage, whatever happened afterwards.

I lost track of them then.

It was very sad for the girl, for the wife, but most of all for the young man — he had to hoof it so.

After he had taken the girl to Brooklyn at 4 G.M., he had to travel all the way back to the Bronx.

This is only one of many cases of Traveling Mormons, for New York it is Large.

An interesting example of the Thoughtless Mormon is, well for euphony, we will call him Smith.

When I knew Smith, some three years ago, he was married; but not so’s you could notice it to hurt.

First he was living with his wife and then again he wasn’t.

You had to be very careful what you said to each separately, or the first thing you knew, they’d be sitting off in some corner together, roasting you.

However, at length, I heard that they had separated for good.

I lost sight of Smith until one evening I went down to the Ninth Ward cafe of the Romeo and Juliet balconies and there he sat with an altogether different companion.

He at once arose in that winning way that has won him so many wives — he’s a handsome dog — and called to me.

“Are you alone?” he asked.

I was, and said so.

“Come and dine with us,” he insisted.

His companion was fairly cordial, so I sat down and began to dine.

I say “began” advisedly.

“I suppose you have been reading all about me in the papers,” smiled Smith.

“No? Why, the city hummed with it!”

He hadn’t been married to the Mrs. Smith I knew at all. He had thoughtlessly neglected to get a divorce from some wife out West, and so hadn’t been married to anybody, not in a way what could insure them Alimony, that is.

“Not to the Brooklyn wife either!” I cried.

Well! The cat was out of the bag!

Smith’s face turned fiery. His companion glared at me.

“What wife in Brooklyn?” she demanded to know.

She glared at me so hard I nearly lost my appetite.

Finally she brought her fist down on the table and shouted (everybody listening):

“You can stay here if you like,” to Smith, “but I am going home!”

Strong accent on the “I”.

I turned to Smith.

“Perhaps it would be better,” I suggested, “for me to finish my dinner on the balcony.”

And brave man that he is, he escorted me personally to the balcony.

“You would spring the Brooklyn wife on her,” he whispered, “so how does she know but you might be a wife from Hoboken or the Bronx?”

Let us draw a veil over her behavior throughout the dinner, which attracted the attention of the diners above and below stairs, but there is one thing certain.

Never again will Little Zoe, no matter how alone she is, accept another invitation to dine with another Thoughtless Mormon, unless he also is at the moment, unattached.

No matter how well she chanced to know his previous wife, she will insist upon that.

The Kindly Mormon permits his wives to obtain their divorces, collusion being common in New York as Mormonism; but wishes to bring them together in a large and happy family unbeknownst to each other, a family that steadily increases as his appetite for wives grows.

Sometimes he goes so far as to ask the opinion of an ex-wife of a wife-to-be.

One such case ended rather disastrously.

The two were duly introduced.

The wife-to-be looked good to the ex-wife. She was bedizzened with jewelry. She had every outward appearance of Alimony.

Deeply desiring Alimony, the ex-wife gave her consent, but Lo and Behold!

No sooner was the knot tied than the bejeweled wife refused firmly and absolutely to cough up her jewelry, or to otherwise settle for the Alimony Due.

The consequence was that the Kindly Mormon spent six languishing months in Ludlow street jail; for all kindly Mormons would rather spend six months in jail than cough up Alimony.

But as a rule it is not necessary.

The ex-wives, for the most part, accept the situation and go to work, knowing full well that either the jail or New Jersey, via the Hudson Tunnels, will eventually catch the culprit.

This sweet resignation seems to have the effect of temporarily renewing the flame apparently burned out in the heart of the Mormon. Some of his affections at once return to the old love.

I knew such a Mormon who had not been married two weeks to the third wife — I don’t know what became of the first — before he ‘phoned to the second begging her to meet him somewhere.

“Come and spend a day or two with me in the country,” he implored.

No. Well, then, in some Art Gallery.

Very well then, at four.

Oh! And this only twelve! How shall I wait! How shall I wait! Make it earlier!

This from a Mormon who had been so flagrantly unfaithful that out of pride she had been forced to divorce him.

At four she met him. She told me of it with tears in her eyes.

He was ill. He was about to go on the dissecting table. Soon the doctors would carve him up and he would be no more.

And why not?

He was sure to shuffle off this mortal coil.

She must see him again and again. She must, and so she promised.

“When he goes to the hospital,” she declared, “I will go to see him. Yes. Even if I meet his third wife there, I will sit by him and hold his hand.”

That was five months ago and the doctors haven’t carved him yet, hang it all!

Simply a fake to hold her by the heartstrings, this pretty wife whom he had degraded by his open infidelity into getting her divorce.

I knew of another woman, a lovely woman whose husband told her frankly that he had ceased to love her, that he loved a girl whom he had met in the country.

She is a big hearted, brave woman.

You know how that must have hurt, but she kept back the tears. She said to him:

“I will go quietly away and get my divorce. I won’t stand in your way.”

She gave up her beautiful house on Riverside Drive and went to live in a small flat, not wishing to create any  question of Alimony, which might cause his displeasure.

During the pending trial they met to talk the matter over, to arrange it so the courts wouldn’t catch onto the collusion and land them in jail, and he said to her: “I don’t want to go to the country to night. I want to stay in town. Come spend tonight with me.”

Faithless to her! Faithless to the girl in the country! Wishing in this lawless Mormon fashion prevalent in New York to keep the two together, to keep a harem, as it were, without the cost of keeping it, an Alimony-less harem, the  inmates of which should take care of themselves.

The pity of it! The smallness of it!

To work so upon the feelings of the wife who loves her husband for no true woman ever altogether loses her affection for the man in whose arms she has slept — to accept from her such sacrifice, to try to keep one tied to him who has been unbound by the law.

What is to be the sequel of all this?

I will tell you. I have said it before. I will say it again.

Woman must become the head of the family.

Don’t shout. It is so in some countries. The marriage code must be changed. It must be the woman who marries the man, and not the man who marries the woman.

Then all will be well.

If a woman vows to “With him all her earthly goods endow,” she will keep that vow, for woman is naturally faithful and truthful, and a Monogamist.

In her heart of hearts she wishes for one husband only, and given half a show, she will keep to him so long as they both shall live.

If it should be that he fails to keep her love, that he willfully neglects his personal appearance, fails to do his hair up in curl papers, or lets his slippers run down at the heel, and her affections in consequence stray elsewhere to the point of demanding a separation in order to find a more tidy and congenial companion, I believe that she will not shatter his chances of success in other matrimonial ventures by keeping a hold upon his heart-strings, or any sort of supervision of his life; but will quietly permit him to go his way.

I believe also that, if she should settle a sum upon him as the price of her liberty, she will not take advantage of the nearness of New Jersey to defraud him of such support, but will stand by her guns and pay.



Source: The East Side, Vol. Two, Number Twelve, 1911, edited by Zoe Anderson Norris, Literary Sanctum, pp. 7-13.