Heartsick and Astonished

Divorce in Civil War-Era West Virginia

Title Details

Pages: 304

Illustrations: 9 b&w images

Trim size: 6.000in x 9.000in



Pub Date: 05/15/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6428-5

List Price: $32.95


Pub Date: 05/15/2023

ISBN: 9-780-8203-6427-8

List Price: $114.95

Heartsick and Astonished

Divorce in Civil War-Era West Virginia

Divorce cases from the mid-nineteenth century shed light on ethnic, racial, and class issues

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  • Description
  • Reviews

Heartsick and Astonished features twenty-seven divorce cases from mid-nineteenth century America. More than dry legal documents, these cases provide a captivating window into marital life—and strife—in the border South during the tumultuous years before, during, and after the Civil War. Allison Dorothy Fredette has brought these primary documents to light, revealing the inner thoughts, legal hardships, and day-to-day struggles of these average citizens.

In Wheeling, West Virginia, the seat of Ohio County, courtrooms bore witness to men and women from various ethnic, racial, and class backgrounds who shared shockingly intimate details of their lives and relationships. Some tried desperately to defend their masculinity or femininity; others hoped to restore their reputations to the legal system and to their community.

In an era of uncertainty—when the country was torn in two, when the Wheeling community became the capital of a new state, and when activists across the country began to push for women’s rights in the household and family—the divorce cases of ordinary couples reveal changing attitudes toward marriage, gender, and legal separation in a booming border city perched on the edge of the South.

This is a cogent, elegantly written, and succinctly presented source collection. Fredette's introduction reads as an extended piece of original historiography and research, compellingly supported by an incisive archival fluency that delivers a nuanced contextualization of Ohio County. These local sources, mined through the author’s arduous archival research, are essential jumping off points for the next generation of women’s, gender, and legal scholars who analyze the local community and individual experiences of law and their influences on law.

—Yvonne Pitts, author of Family, Law and Inheritance in America: A Social and Legal History of Nineteenth Century Kentucky

About the Author/Editor

ALLISON DOROTHY FREDETTE is assistant professor of history at Appalachian State University. She is the author of Marriage on the Border: Love, Mutuality, and Divorce in the Upper South during the Civil War and has chapters in Rethinking American Emancipation: Legacies of Slavery and the Quest for Black Freedom and West Virginia History: A Journal of Regional Studies. She lives in Boone, North Carolina.