Statement on Wife Desertion, June 17, 1901


Chicago Women Scout Mr. Bicknell's Theory of Runaway Husbands.


Cause of Abandonment Declared to Be Something Less Superficial.


Superintendent Ernest P. Bicknell of the Bureau of Associated Charities put his foot in his own pie when he announced his belief, as told yesterday in THE TRIBUNE, that bad cookery was one of the principal causes of wife desertion. For that remark he will have to reckon with the women of Chicago who have been studying the problem from the other side of the breakfast table. They told THE TRIBUNE yesterday that man decamps from the home not to escape from his wife's pastry but rather to avoid some tyranny for which he is solely to blame.

There are eleven men now in Cook County held in cells because they ran away from their wives. There are six in County Jail and five in the bridewell. A canvass of "deserter's row" in each institution developed the fact that the cuisine was among the least of the plaints which finally led the men to quit their families.

Women Scout Cookery Theory.

Chicago women cannot believe that indigestion is sufficient excuse for a man to desert his fireside. They point to Thomas Carlyle, who had indigestion for forty years, yet remained at home with his wife all the time and wrote various books. They say that test of endurance casts suspicion upon the apology of the wife deserter.

"I think Mr. Bicknell is straining a point when he lays wife desertion largely to bad cookery," said Jane Addams. "The subject is a vast and curious one. I have seen many cases of this offense, and every one almost was due to a different cause. We have a nursery here in Hull House, with many women who have been left by their husbands, and summing up all my experience in the matter I would not place bad cookery first among the reasons. Many English students of the problem believe that wife desertion usually occurs after the birth of the third child. By that time husband and wife have grown apart. It is comparatively easy to take two children about, but it is difficult for the pair to take three. So the man goes alone. That, however, is only one of the many theories advanced."

Excuses Easy to Find if Wanted.

Dr. Julia Holmes Smith was emphatic in her denunciation of Mr. Bicknell's theory.

"A man's heart may be in his stomach," said she, "but not his conscience. If a man is in search of an excuse for leaving his wife he can of course find it in a [cookie], but if he wants to be true to his mate his constitution will withstand the pies. As a rule, these wife deserters have none to blame but themselves."

Preposterous, Says Mrs. Hanecy.

Mrs. Elbridge Hanecy, whose recipe for a good pie was published in THE TRIBUNE a few weeks ago, read Mr. Bicknell's statement and dismissed the subject with the single word, "Preposterous."

"Indigestion may certainly drive a man away from home," admitted Mrs. S. E. Gross, "but I do not believe it to be a general cause of wife desertion."