In May, I wrote a post about Lydia Gross (1872-1938) of Doylestown, an early leader in the Mennonite sewing circle movement, and her “unknown” or forgotten marriage to a British man named Henry Howlett. At the time, I was unsure whether they ever officially divorced, and whether her marriage was known to her family and church. Since we were in the height of pandemic shutdown, I could not go to the Bucks County Historical Society to look for a divorce record.
Recently I made the trip, and found not only record of the divorce (which was finalized March 11, 1897), but a full transcription, in cursive longhand, of the testimony of Lydia & Henry Howlett, and witnesses, in their divorce proceedings.
The detailed testimony indicates that their marriage was indeed known to her community. Henry and Lydia lived together as husband and wife for a year, during which time he abused her terribly, until she had him arrested for assault and battery in July 1896, and he was sent to prison.
I think Lydia was quite brave to have her husband arrested, and then to recount his abuse in detail (probably in his presence) in court. The court found her credible, and granted the divorce within days.
If you’d like to read the full testimony as I transcribed it from the original, you can find it here. Be aware that details are disturbing.
I updated the May 15 blog post to reflect the information revealed in the divorce testimony, as well as Lydia’s locations in the 1910 and 1920 U.S. census, which were graciously found for me by MHEP member Bette Male. In those census years, Lydia listed herself as divorced.
So, it appears that her family and the Mennonite community knew about her marriage and divorce, but chose to forget it and treat her as if she had never been married. Most likely, the divorce took place before Lydia was baptized and joined church.
In the first post, I showed a photo of Lydia as a nurse at Eastern Mennonite Home, Souderton, circa 1920. Here’s another from around the same time. These are the only good photos we have of Lydia. It would be wonderful to find a picture of her as a young woman. A picture of Henry Howlett would also be interesting.