Friday, July 29, 2016

The Rivalry of the Marriage Minded Sisters

The Rivalry of the Marriage Minded Sisters
My great-grandmother, Edith, who was born in 1880, had two sisters, and in their teens and early 20s were occupied with one goal ... finding husbands. In 1898 Edith, 18; Elizabeth, 20; and Corliss, 21, started a friendly competition about who would get engaged first. This friendly competition, however, would end up tearing part of the family up forever.

The three sisters were typical upper middle class Anglo stock. At the time they didn't have many cares, and spent most of their days emulating the Gibson Girl (perhaps America's first supermodel), wearing frilly dresses, going to parties, and gossiping. The only societal expectation of them was that they marry. And this expectation they took seriously.

The Gibson Girl:
The beauty ideal of the late 1800s
Corliss, the oldest, had been introduced to a few young men at a social engagement when she was 19, but none had caught her eye. She was the only sister partially interested in finding an occupation, so she enrolled in a college that trained women to be teachers. At the age of 21 she applied to be a teacher at a boarding school specifically because she was interested in seducing the 35-year-old bachelor headmaster into asking her to marry him.

She had her eye on him since she attended a teacher's recruitment meeting. Her plan worked. After a few months of carefully planned use of feminine wiles, Corliss married Jack on the grounds of her parents' house in rural Connecticut at the age of 22. She thereafter moved into his home and left her short-lived teaching job for good.

Sisters Edith and Elizabeth, however, got into a rivalry over a soldier, Thomas, they both danced with at a dinner party their parents hosted at home. Thomas had wavy, light blonde hair, blue eyes, and a tall stature, features the dark haired sisters gravitated to. He had interests with both ladies, which was not rare during a time when spreading your social wings meant a higher likelihood of meeting a proper potential mate.

But Edith intentionally spilled ink on Elizabeth's one-of-a-kind expensive dress right before the next social party started. Edith planned to whisk the soldier into another room and chat while her sister would fret and have to waste time looking for something else to wear. Edith had a crush on Thomas when they were in school together as children, and when she saw him as a young adult she felt God had brought them together again.

But Elizabeth ended up catching them together and in retaliation towards Edith, forged a letter from Thomas's mother a few weeks later saying that Thomas had been sent away to a military unit to prepare to fight. Secretly, Elizabeth met with Thomas but kept him away from their house.

Elizabeth pretended to take over a letter from the family to Thomas's parents' home that expressed care and concern over their son's leaving. Since their houses were separated by many acres of forest, Elizabeth was able to carry on, meeting Thomas many times without anyone's knowledge. Elizabeth got her parents permission to visit a neighboring town's church by train to do Christian volunteer work. But Elizabeth came back home on that same train a week later married to Thomas.

Upon this knowledge breaking to Edith and her parents, my great-aunt Elizabeth was yelled at by almost everyone in the house -- by Edith for her betrayal and taking away any potential she had with Thomas, and by her parents for hurting her sister -- and also not having a proper wedding to bring family and friends to.

There was so much hostility between Edith and Elizabeth that Thomas had to move his new bride into his parents' house that very day.

Edith never spoke to her sister Elizabeth again, even after marrying a hotel owner in 1901, and marrying another two times after that. My grandmother, having been told the story of her sister's betrayal said Edith had taken it so seriously because she loved Thomas since she was 12 years old.

Although the sisters maintained a good relationship with oldest sibling Corliss, when Edith died in 1983, at 103 years old, the sisterly rift had never been repaired. No one in my family even knows where Elizabeth's descendants live or who they are. Competition among siblings can sometimes make people strive for their best, but in this case created an irreversible divide.

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