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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Social censure associated with divorce

As a young divorcee, Mary Thompson faced some social censure, and she describes how she dealt with that.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Carl and Mary Thompson, July 19, 1979. Interview H-0182. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JIM LELOUDIS:
How old was she when you and your husband separated?
MARY THOMPSON:
We separated so many times, it's hard to say. The first time, she wasn't but five weeks old, and then we went back together so many times. After she got about two years old, we never did go back together. We was around one another, because we worked at the same place a good bit. He went to Detroit, Michigan, and I went up there and stayed with him two or three weeks and left to come back home.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Why did you separate? Do you mind telling me?
MARY THOMPSON:
He loved the women too well. [Laughter]
JIM LELOUDIS:
He was running around?
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes. He didn't want to settle down, and so we separated for good.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you get a legal divorce eventually?
MARY THOMPSON:
We did finally get one, but it was about twelve to fifteen years.
JIM LELOUDIS:
How did people treat you?
MARY THOMPSON:
I had my friends, just like everybody else had. Really, I'm always a person, I don't meet no strangers, and I can make friends with most everybody. If they didn't like me, it didn't make no difference to me; I'd just let them alone.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did people think you were doing something wrong by not pretending to be married?
MARY THOMPSON:
Oh, I knew they did, but they didn't have the guts to tell me to my face. [Laughter] I knew that some people was kind of… You know, they always looked down on grass widows. I knew some of them felt thataway about it, but I never did have nobody that had guts enough to tell me to my face anything.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did it bother you that people thought that way?
MARY THOMPSON:
No, it didn't.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Did you say "grass widows"?
MARY THOMPSON:
That's what they called them back then, grass widows. Now I think they just call them, what? I don't know what they call people that's divorced now, or separated.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Do you know where that term originated? That's an interesting phrase.
MARY THOMPSON:
No, I sure don't.
CARL THOMPSON:
I don't, either.
MARY THOMPSON:
I've heard that all my life.
CARL THOMPSON:
I've heard it all my life, but I don't know where it originated at. But now they say, "I'm separated from my husband," or "I will divorce."
MARY THOMPSON:
Yes, that kind of branded the woman.
CARL THOMPSON:
Yes, they've quit using that "grass widow."
MARY THOMPSON:
They didn't call a man that. They were just single after they had separated, but a woman was branded a grass widow. I guess that's to separate a widow from a divorced person, is all I know. It didn't make any difference to me noway.
CARL THOMPSON:
But now, if they're not divorced, they'll just say, "No, we're not living together, we're separated," and that's all. And after they get divorced, say, "Well, we're divorced."
MARY THOMPSON:
I know they don't brand them now.
JIM LELOUDIS:
Yes, I don't think it's quite such a social stigma anymore.
CARL THOMPSON:
No.
MARY THOMPSON:
I don't think so, either.
CARL THOMPSON:
It's been a long time since I've heared that word "a grass widow."
MARY THOMPSON:
I hadn't heard it in years. I have to think about us calling people that's separated …
CARL THOMPSON:
You used to hear it rather often back years and years ago, but it's very seldom you hear it now.
MARY THOMPSON:
But it didn't make any difference to me. I never did worry about it. I had my own friends. I always made lots of friends, so I never did have any trouble. I still make lots of friends, and I don't worry about the ones I don't make, either. I always just try to hold my head up and do right and live as close to the Lord as I can, so I don't really worry about things like that. If nobody don't like me, well, that's just their hard luck, not mine. [Laughter]