Separation and Abuse (1906-1910)

This entry is part 6 of 6 in the series John & Florence

Please note that this entry will include descriptions of domestic abuse and will be included beneath the “Read More” tag.


At some point between 1905 and 1906, John moved to 211 Line Street.

On August 3 1906, Florence published a legal notice. “I will not pay any bills contracted by J.J. Keating after this date as I have a bill of separation and will pay no bills unless contracted by myself.”  She also gives her maiden name (Ottinger) so there is absolutely no doubt that this is my great-great grandmother. In 1906, the marriage broke down so badly, that Florence had filed for separation. Less than 1% of marriages ended in divorce during this period, so it unsurprising that Florence did not go through with the divorce. This legal notice appeared in the papers for at least four straight days. This was a legal measure of protection from any debts John might accrue during their separation.

I don’t have the legal records for their separation, but they may or may not exist in the state archives. I’ll be requesting any, if they exist, and will update this entry if I receive any.

While I don’t know what lead to the separation specifically, the newspapers can give us some measure of understanding. Florence took her six children (ranging from age 14 to 1) and moved to 811 Dauphin Street.  The court ordered John to pay $6 a week. Florence remained in the same neighborhood that she had since her marriage, and John moved only a few houses from where they had lived as newly weds.

November 1906

On November 12, 1906, John came to the house where Florence was staying, drunk. He smashed up the house pretty badly — smashing the gas range and shredding linens. Florence ran for an officer, but John remained in the home and, according to the Courier Post, smashed one of his children’s heads into the post.  One of the articles says that prior to this, John offered her $12 a week and wanted her to come home. Florence refused — she’d return if he kept sober. I imagine he was one of those men who turned violent and angry when drunk and Florence thought sobriety would give her a measure of safety. For John’s part, he denied that he’d smashed up the house but that he was unhappy that Florence was visiting a house on Pine Street.

O. Glenn Stackhouse, one of the local police court judges, believed Florence, and sentenced John to jail for thirty days.

John would have been released sometime in December of that year and went to live at 446 Second Street. I don’t know if Florence returned home to him at this point — she might have. With John in jail for thirty days, she would have lost out on the support he’d been ordered to pay her.

January & February 1907

At any rate, on January 28, 1907, the authorities were called to the house on Second Street where John had assaulted Florence again and torn up the house in a “rum-soaked” craze. John attempted to assault Florence again in front of the authorities, grabbing her by the hair. The Courier Post wrote that John’s face was beaten up from a fight he’d had that Saturday night, but the Morning Post reported that Florence attempted to beat and tear at John’s hair. The articles are a bit mixed, but it does look like a very serious argument and as if Florence had definitely had enough of this treatment. Florence, however, did not show up to press charges, but John was still sent back to jail for another twenty days.

Without prison records, it’s hard to know how much time John actually served. On February 6, 1907, the Courier Post wrote that Keating had been arrested for the third time within two weeks. On this occasion, he dragged Florence in the snow and brutally kicked her. According to this article, the first time John was arrested, he was released on bail, then did not appear and forfeited his deposit. Then he was fined. Florence did not press charges those first two times, but was now.

The article describes Florence as a “pretty woman” with a highly nervous temperament. In her testimony, she said the following: “That man…has been drunk since Saturday. He came home with a pint of whisky in his pocket and began to quarrel. I was afraid he would kill me so I made him leave the house. He came home yesterday afternoon and lay on the lounge. When I went in, he drove me out in the snow. He chased me to Second and Line streets where I fell in the snow and he came up and grabbing my hair began to beat and kick me.”

The police officer, George Murray, who was in the previous set of articles, also testified. “I saw the assault and chased Keating into the house. There he put up an awful fight and I had to club him into submission.”

For his part, John argued it was all Florence’s fault because she was “nagging” him and that he resisted arrest because Murray didn’t have a warrant.

This article describes him as being held under $300 bail which he provided.

Based on the information provided in this article, I think they made a mistake when they wrote “two weeks”. I think I have that the November, January, and February incidents are the three cases. In November, John was held for bail and then didn’t show up for his sentencing. He probably ended up serving those thirty days, promised Florence he’d stop drinking, and she came home. Then in January, he assaulted her again. When Florence didn’t press charges, he was fined. Now, here we are in our third case with John being held over for cash bail again.

On February 21, 1907, John was found wandering at 2:30 in the morning around Broadway and Berkeley street without shoes, hat or coat, and was mumbling incoherently. This was quite a few blocks away from his home at Third and Line.  John told the policeman he was going for Dr. Smith because his wife was sick.  The officer took him home, where he met with Florence who was not ill at all. He was taken to City Hall and locked up.

When he met with the judge again, he told them that he wasn’t drunk and that he hadn’t been drinking for a long time.

One paper concluded, “The last time he was before Recorder Stackhouse on such a charge he promised to stop drinking. This he did, and it is thought that the sudden abstinence from drink [h]as disturbed his mind.”

July 1907

There is a large gap in newspaper coverage at this point, but Florence again left John and moved in with her sister, Stella.

Stella, or Estella, had married by this point and was Estella Wright. An article describes Florence as living in a room in the Wright house, at 815 Dauphin, sleeping in one bed with her four children. Florence had six children at this point — but the eldest, Mary and Florence, might have left home or found somewhere else to stay. Mary would have been nearly 15 and Florence 13.

Apparently, the bed broke and Estella was angry about it. She and Florence fought, and there was violence. Florence, so upset and abused, packed up and moved to 823 Dauphin Street (where the 1907 city directory places her). She went out to make some purchases, and her sister came after her again. Florence had her arrested for disorderly conduct.

Florence had two witnesses who were, apparently, quite convincing, because Estella’s TWENTY-FIVE witnesses couldn’t make up the difference because they were only hearsay witnesses. Estella was found guilty and fined $3.30.

During this same month, John’s older brother, James, was also arrested for stealing and was too drunk to be given a hearing on the charges. I won’t go into detail on this case, but I just thought it was interesting.

The rest of 1907 and most of 1908 were relatively quiet. Or least, whatever happened between Florence and John did not make it into the papers I’ve located. John and Florence were living together again.

December 1908

On December 14, 1908, both the Courier Post and Morning Post reported that the abusive drinking and behavior had started.

While the city directory says John lived at 1121 Newton Avenue, by December he was at 208 Chestnut Street. John had taken a pledge of sobriety three months earlier before a priest. Then she testified before the Police Court, “Saturday last he spat tobacco juice in my face, beat, choked and kicked me and tried to rip the sides of my mouth open. And his oldest daughter he beat up something terrible.”

He had been arrested two weeks earlier on similar complaints, but Florence had not pressed charges. This time, she was. I hope it was because of the report of abuse against her daughter, Mary, who would have been 16 at this point.

The Courier Post offered a bit more background, referring to this as “old trouble” starting again. In this article, Florence is reported as saying that John left the family to starve a few weeks earlier and she did her best, renting the room on Chestnut street. Then, John returned and taken the pledge before Father Mulligan for sobriety, Florence agreed to let him into the house.

John treated Florence very nicely in front of the judge, but could not offer a single example of how he’d supported the family over the last few weeks. He was held for bail.

He was bailed out by a friend, Jacob Kline (a saloon keeper of course) on December 17, and went to the house on 208 Chestnut street and created a huge disturbance, having the cops called on him. He claimed he found his wife in another man’s room. Another newspaper account argued that Florence had bolted the door against him when he tried to get his things. Either way, John was arrested.

Ironically, Jacob Kline, who bailed him out, had already learned John was drinking again and had sworn to revoke his bail, so John was screwed either way.

John was sent to jail for twenty days.

January 1908

After the December incident, Florence moved to 131 Stanley Street and rented a room from Mrs. Transso in her cellar. At 12:30 in the morning on January 14, 1909, John broke into the cellar. The landlord went running for the cops. When she came back, “Mrs. Keating was lying screaming on the pavement while her husband was beating her brutally with his fists.”

John was arrested, and Florence went to court to say the beating “was the thanks she got for pleading with Prosecutor Scovel and having her husband released from jail on the last charge.”

She testified, sobbing, “He grabbed by the hair of the head last night and dragged me around the sidewalk…and me just doing two washes to keep body and soul together.”

John was still drunk at the hearing and was berating Florence as well as Mrs. Transso, but he was sent back to jail for two months. When he came out, he and Florence were living together for the city directory, which gives them an address at 1541 Federal Avenue and lists Florence as a lacemaker.

1910 & Conclusion

Their marriage, I think, remained troubled. In 1910, they are not living together. Florence is the head of the household in the census, with all of her children living with her at 246 Kaighn Avenue. She and her two eldest daughters are working at the soup factory, likely Campbell’s Soup. More tragically — at some point in the last decade, Florence suffered death of two children. The census suggests she had 8 children, six of which are living. I only know about the six living children. I have no idea who the two others are, but it makes you wonder just how tragic the abuse was. The census was recorded in April, and there is no listing for either of them in that year’s directory.

What I found most striking while I was reading the descriptions of the repeated violence was that Florence absolutely had the support of her community and authorities. John was repeatedly arrested for his abuse, but at the end of the day — she couldn’t leave him and John never served more than two months in jail. Were the laws not strong enough? Was Recorder Stackhouse’s hands tied? Or was it as as simple as John promised to stop drinking, and when he didn’t drink — Florence could live with whoever the sober John Keating was.

I don’t know. These articles give me a glimpse into who my great-great grandparents were and the world in which they lived, but I’m not sure I have anymore answers than I did at the beginning.


City Directory

1906, 1907, 1908, 1909



Newspaper Articles

Legal Notices: 1, 2, 3, 4

November 1906: 1, 2

January 1907: 1, 2

February 1907: 1, 2, 3

July 1907: 1, 2, 3

December 1908: 1, 2, 3, 4

January 1909: 1

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