Women in Roman Times

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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard explains that women were expected to get married (see quote below).

Roman marriage was, in essence, a simple and private business. Unlike in the modern world, the state played little part in it. In most cases a man and a woman were assumed to be married if they claimed that they were married, and they ceased to be married if they (or if one of them) claimed they no longer were. That, plus a party or two to celebrate the union, was probably all there was to it for the majority of ordinary Roman citizens. For the wealthier, there were often more formal and more expensive wedding ceremonies, featuring a relatively familiar line-up for such a rite of passage: special clothes (brides traditionally wore yellow), songs and processions and the new wife being carried over the threshold of the marital home. Considerations of property bulked larger for the rich too, in particular a dowry that the father of the bride provided, to be returned in the event of divorce.

The main purpose of marriage at Rome, as in all past cultures, was the production of legitimate children, who automatically inherited Roman citizen status if both parents were citizens or if they satisfied various conditions governing ‘intermarriage’ with outsiders.

Just as today, however, being married did not necessarily limit a woman’s freedom:

No less problematic is the competing image, prominent in the first century BCE, of a new style of liberated woman, who supposedly enjoyed a free social, sexual, often adulterous life, without much constraint from husband, family or the law. Some of these characters were conveniently dismissed as part of the demi-monde of actresses, showgirls, escorts and prostitutes, including one celebrity ex-slave, Volumnia Cytheris, who was said to have been the mistress at one time or another of both Brutus and Mark Antony, so sleeping with both Caesar’s assassin and his greatest supporter. But many of them were the wives or widows of high-ranking Roman senators. The most notorious of all was Clodia, the sister of Cicero’s great enemy Clodius, the wife of a senator who died in 59 BCE, and the lover of the poet Catullus, among a string of others. Terentia is rumoured to have had her suspicions about even Cicero’s relations with Clodius’ sister. She was alternately attacked and admired as a promiscuous temptress, scheming manipulator, idolised goddess and borderline criminal.

Women were not shut away:

Women also regularly dined with men, and not only the sex workers, escorts and entertainers who provided the female company at classical Athenian parties. In fact, one of the early misdeeds of Verres turned on this difference between Greek and Roman dining practices. In the 80s BCE, when he was serving in Asia Minor, more than a decade before his stint in Sicily, Verres and some of his staff engineered an invitation to dinner with an unfortunate Greek, and after a considerable quantity of alcohol had been consumed they asked the host if his daughter could join them. When the man explained that respectable Greek women did not dine in male company, the Romans refused to believe him and set out to find her. A brawl followed in which one of Verres’ bodyguards was killed and the host was drenched with boiling water; he was later executed for murder. Cicero paints the whole incident in extravagant terms, almost as a rerun of the rape of Lucretia. But it also involved a series of drunken misunderstandings about the conventions of female behaviour across the cultural boundaries of the empire. Some of the legal rules that governed marriage and women’s rights at this period reflect this relative freedom. There were, it is true, some hard lines claimed on paper. It may have been a nostalgic myth that once upon a time a man had the right to cudgel to death his wife for the ‘crime’ of drinking a glass of wine. But there is some evidence that the execution of a wife who was caught in adultery was technically within the husband’s legal power. There is, however, not a single known example of this ever happening, and most evidence points in a different direction. A woman did not take her husband’s name or fall entirely under his legal authority. After the death of her father, an adult woman could own property in her own right, buy and sell, inherit or make a will and free slaves – many of the rights that women in Britain did not gain till the 1870s.

The only restriction was the need for an appointed guardian (tutor) to approve whatever decision or transaction she made. Whether Cicero was being patronising or misogynistic or (as some critics generously think) having a joke when he put this rule down to women’s natural ‘weakness in judgement’ is impossible to tell. But there is certainly no sign that for his wife it was much of a handicap: whether she was selling a row of houses to raise funds for Cicero in exile or raking in the rents from her estates, no tutor is ever mentioned. In fact, one of the reforms of Augustus towards the end of the first century BCE or early in the next was to allow freeborn citizen women who had borne three children to be released from the requirement to have a guardian; ex-slaves had to have four to qualify. It was a clever piece of radical traditionalism: it allowed women new freedoms, provided they fulfilled their traditional role. Oddly, women had much less freedom when it came to the act of marriage itself. For a start, they had no real option whether to marry or not. The basic rule was that all freeborn women were to be married. There were no maiden aunts, and it was only special groups, such as the Vestal Virgins, who opted, or were compelled, to remain single.

Being a virgin might have been a wise career choice:

The production of children was a dangerous obligation. Childbirth was always the biggest killer of young adult women at Rome, from senators’ wives to slaves. Thousands of such deaths are recorded, from high-profile casualties such as Tullia and Pompey’s Julia to the ordinary women across the empire commemorated on tombstones by their grieving husbands and families. One man in North Africa remembered his wife, who ‘lived for thirty-six years and forty days. It was her tenth delivery. On the third day she died.’ Another, from what is now Croatia, put up a simple memorial to ‘his fellow slave’ (and probably his partner), who ‘suffered agonies to give birth for four days, and did not give birth, and so she died’. To put this in a wider perspective, statistics available from more recent historical periods suggest that at least one in fifty women were likely to die in childbirth, with a higher chance if they were very young.

most of their contraceptive efforts were defeated by the fact that ancient science claimed that the days after a woman ceased menstruating were her most fertile, when the truth is exactly the opposite.

The best estimate – based largely on figures from comparable later populations – is that half the children born would have died by the age of ten, from all kinds of sickness and infection, including the common childhood diseases that are no longer fatal. What this means is that, although average life expectancy at birth was probably as low as the mid twenties, a child who survived to the age of ten could expect a lifespan not wildly at variance from our own. According to the same figures, a ten-year-old would on average have another forty years of life left, and a fifty-year-old could reckon on fifteen more. The elderly were not as rare as you might think in ancient Rome. But the high death rate among the very young also had implications for women’s pregnancies and family size. Simply to maintain the existing population, each woman on average would have needed to bear five or six children. In practice, that rises to something closer to nine when other factors, such as sterility and widowhood, are taken into account. It was hardly a recipe for widespread women’s liberation.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Lesbians Who Tech Plus Allies Summit Opens

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Last month, a professor friend posted a link to the Lesbians Who Tech + Allies Summit and added, as a Facebook status:

I’ll be attending for the third year in a row. I live less than a mile from the conference location and have a bunch of students sleep over. (There’s room for more, if anyone reading this is considering coming into town.)

The conference starts today… Perhaps it is not too late to get an invitation to be included in the “invite-only diversity and inclusion roundtable” this evening.

[Note that the professor, who hast identified as a woman for all the time that I have known her, is, as far as I know, married to a man and has a young daughter. So I suspect the invitation to “sleep over” does primarily involve sleep.]

You can’t have a welfare state and modern electronics?

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Milton Friedman was famous for noting that you couldn’t combine immigration with a welfare state. Here’s a New York Times article that suggests that modern electronics might be a greater threat to the welfare state’s sustainability than immigration:

At the bottom of all this, perhaps, is declining economic growth. As Nicholas Eberstadt points out in his powerful essay “Our Miserable 21st Century,” in the current issue of Commentary, between 1948 and 2000 the U.S. economy grew at a per-capita rate of about 2.3 percent a year.

But then around 2000, something shifted. In this century, per-capita growth has been less than 1 percent a year on average, and even since 2009 it’s been only 1.1 percent a year.

For every one American man aged 25 to 55 looking for work, there are three who have dropped out of the labor force. If Americans were working at the same rates they were when this century started, over 10 million more people would have jobs.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics time-use studies, these labor force dropouts spend on average 2,000 hours a year watching some screen.

SSDI and SSI have been around for a few decades, but the shift from work to welfare seems to coincide with the rise of inexpensive big-screen TVs, HDTV (1998), 500-channel digital cable, smartphones (T-Mobile Sidekick, 2002), broadband Internet, personal computers, Xbox (2001), 4G/LTE mobile data, etc.

How much fun was it for a working-age guy to cash government checks while watching soap operas designed for women on three (count ’em!) TV channels displayed on a 19″ CRT in the Never Twice the Same Color system (483 lines of resolution!)? His modern-day counterpart can watch Netflix, play Xbox, surf the Web, Facebook with friends, etc.

What do readers think? Are welfare programs set up in the 1960s and 1970s incompatible with today’s electronics?

Related:

Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 review (Bluetooth, touchscreen, and WiFi failures)

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I decided it was time to shed the weight of a 17-inch laptop and also enter the brave new world of 2-in-1 folding laptops. Enter the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1, which I have used on two trips so far.

The machine’s biggest weakness is an inability to stay connected to a Microsoft Bluetooth travel mouse. The mouse worked fine with the five-year-old 17-inch machine. I tried a second example of the same mouse and suffered from the same disconnections after a few seconds (snapping the mouse closed and open would restore connectivity).

The Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 also has a finicky WiFi system. It would disconnect from a friend’s home router after about every 30 minutes of use, requiring a manual “disconnect” and then “reconnect.” After a driver update the problem seemed to be gone but then I closed the machine and opened it up the next morning. There was no WiFi connection and the machine couldn’t see any of the 12 or so networks in the apartment complex where I was staying.

I thought “well, maybe it isn’t so bad if I have no mouse because I have a touchscreen.” A couple of days later, the touchscreen failed completely. Dell support suggested unplugging the machine and using the power switch to drain power off the motherboard. That restored the touchscreen, but I still miss having a mouse. Why not plug in a wired mouse, 1970s-style? Dell decided that there shouldn’t be any standard USB ports on the machine so it would have to be done via a dongle. There is no reputable brand of wired USB-C mouse because anyone up-to-date enough to have USB-C would of course have a computer with functional Bluetooth. Eventually I decided to try a Logitech m557 Bluetooth mouse and haven’t seen any disconnections so far.

I’m not a big TV-watcher and haven’t found a real use for the tent mode. Nor have I really used the machine as a tablet because if I want to read a Kindle book I just use the iPhone 7 Plus. Still, I like the mechanical design much better than the Microsoft Surface Book.

Immigration, politics, and public finance in Ancient Rome

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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard describes Rome as perhaps the first great society of immigrants:

in one episode of the Aeneid, the hero visits the site of the future city of Rome and finds it already settled by primitive predecessors of the Romans. And who are they? They are a group of settlers under a certain King Evander, an exile from the land of Arcadia in the Greek Peloponnese. The message is clear: however far back you go, the inhabitants of Rome were always already from somewhere else.

As with the U.S., some of the immigrants arrived as slaves:

Roman slavery was in some respects as brutal as Roman methods of military conquest. But for many Roman slaves, particularly those working in urban domestic contexts rather than toiling in the fields or mines, it was not necessarily a life sentence. They were regularly given their freedom, or they bought it with cash they had managed to save up; and if their owner was a Roman citizen, then they also gained full Roman citizenship, with almost no disadvantages as against those who were freeborn.

The scale was so great that some historians reckon that, by the second century CE, the majority of the free citizen population of the city of Rome had slaves somewhere in their ancestry.

At a very rough guess there might have been between 1.5 and 2 million slaves in Italy in the middle of the first century BCE, making up perhaps 20 per cent of the total population.

Where would the Romans have come down on the question of refugees?

Edgy in a different way was the idea of the asylum, and the welcome, that Romulus gave to all comers – foreigners, criminals and runaways – in finding citizens for his new town. There were positive aspects to this. In particular, it reflected Roman political culture’s extraordinary openness and willingness to incorporate outsiders, which set it apart from every other ancient Western society that we know. No ancient Greek city was remotely as incorporating as this; Athens in particular rigidly restricted access to citizenship. This is not a tribute to any ‘liberal’ temperament of the Romans in the modern sense of the word. They conquered vast swathes of territory in Europe and beyond, sometimes with terrible brutality; and they were often xenophobic and dismissive of people they called ‘barbarians’. Yet, in a process unique in any pre-industrial empire, the inhabitants of those conquered territories, ‘provinces’ as Romans called them, were gradually given full Roman citizenship, and the legal rights and protections that went with it. That culminated in 212 CE (where my SPQR ends), when the emperor Caracalla made every free inhabitant of the empire a Roman citizen.

Romans would probably not have been impressed by our cashflow-negative wars:

There were also important consequences for Rome itself of military success overseas. The literary revolution was only one part of it. By the mid second century BCE, the profits of warfare had made the Roman people by far the richest of any in their known world. Thousands upon thousands of captives became the slave labour that worked the Roman fields, mines and mills, that exploited resources on a much more intensive scale than ever before and fuelled Roman production and Roman economic growth. Bullion by the barrow load, taken (or stolen) from rich eastern cities and kingdoms, poured into the well-guarded basement of the Temple of Saturn in the Forum, which served as the state ‘treasury’. And there was enough left over to line the pockets of the soldiers, from the grandest general to the rawest recruit. There was plenty for Romans to celebrate. Some of the cash was ploughed into new civic amenities, from new harbour installations and vast warehouses on the Tiber to new temples lining the streets, commemorating the assistance of the gods in securing the victories that had brought all this wealth. And it is easy to imagine the widespread pleasure when in 167 BCE Rome became a tax-free state: the treasury was so overflowing – thanks, in particular, to the spoils from the recent victory over Macedon – that direct taxation of Roman citizens was suspended except in emergencies, although they remained liable to a range of other levies, such as customs dues or a special tax charged on freeing slaves.

Upset by today’s expensive elections and politicians pandering to the lowest common denominator?

Electioneering at Rome could be a costly business. By the first century BCE it required the kind of lavish generosity that is not always easy to distinguish from bribery. The stakes were high. The men who were successful in the elections had the chance to recoup their outlay, legally or illegally, with some of the perks of office. The failures – and, like military defeats, there were many more of those in Rome than is usually acknowledged – fell ever more deeply into debt. That was Catiline’s position after he had been beaten in the annual elections for the consulship in both 64 and 63 BCE. Although the usual story is that he had been leaning in that direction before, he now had little option but to resort to ‘revolution’ or ‘direct action’ or ‘terrorism’, whichever you choose to call it. Joining forces with other upper-class desperadoes in similar straits, he appealed to the support of the discontented poor within the city while mustering his makeshift army outside it. And there was no end to his rash promises of debt relief (one of the most despicable forms of radicalism in the eyes of the Roman landed classes) or to his bold threats to take out the leading politicians and to put the whole city to flames.

Plotting resistance to the Trumpenfuhrer?

If the assassination of Julius Caesar became a model for the effective removal of a tyrant, it was also a powerful reminder that getting rid of a tyrant did not necessarily dispose of tyranny. Despite all the slogans, the bravado and the high principles, what the assassins actually brought about, and what the people got, was a long civil war and the permanent establishment of one-man rule.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

What’s the rationale for protesting against the sale of Ivanka Trump products?

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While their counterparts in China, Korea, and Taiwan were studying semiconductor physics and integrated circuit fabrication, some of my neighbors were protesting the sale of Ivanka Trump products at a nearby T.J. Maxx.

I’m wondering what the rationale for this is.

Can it be environmentalism? I don’t see how. If the Ivanka-branded products are not sold and worn, additional clothing will have to be manufactured and then shipped from the factory to American retailers.

Can it be a desire to see a Communist-style purge of an entire family if the parents are guilty of heterodoxy? If so, does that conflict with American liberals’ cherished belief in disregarding genetics? If Ivanka is bad because her father is bad, is there a slippery slope via which if an ethnic or racial group in the U.S. exhibits low academic and career achievement then we should expect their children to exhibit low academic and career achievement, even absent prejudice? (see the book White Trash for how resistant Democrats in academia are to this thoughtcrime)

Is it simply to hurt the Trump family financially? How can that work when they already have $4+ billion?

Is it prejudice against women-run companies? They are protesting because they want people to buy clothing from a male designer and/or a male-led clothing brand? (In fact, I think the “Ivanka Trump” label is mostly a licensing arrangement with an established apparel company.)

Readers: What is the point of this?

Related:

Hawaiians are happier than other Americans; are they also smarter?

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Happiness and “well-being” research tends to rank Hawaii in the #1 spot among American states. Today let’s consider if Hawaiians are also more intelligent.

Let’s consider a Boston-area resident who will be happy to tell you how intelligent he is. He works 60-hour weeks and is trying to build up a nest egg so that he can do the following:

  • not go into work every weekday
  • spend a lot of time with friends and family
  • live in a warm sunny climate
  • go to the beach
  • snorkel
  • fish

In other words, his dream is to live like a Hawaiian on welfare. But if he were actually as smart as he claims to be, why did he spend 40 years slaving away in an office when he could have been in Hawaii living on welfare? (The public housing that I saw in Hawaii was wonderfully located, oftentimes walking distance to the beach or a school, and was sometimes brand new. There is presumably a waiting list but perhaps that can be shortcut by having a child? CATO Institute said that, in 2013, Hawaii offered a welfare family a package of benefits worth $49,175 per year or the equivalent of earning a pretax salary of $60,590 per year.)

Unlike in Manhattan, for example, the recreational pursuits of rich and poor are similar in Hawaii. The rich resident of Hawaii will have a much nicer house, of course, but there is seldom any reason to stay indoors.

If “Most Americans Are Unhappy At Work” (Forbes), why are we not forced to conclude that most Americans have less practical intelligence than a Hawaiian on welfare?

[The analysis should be similar comparing a Hawaiian with a job. I know a lot of folks in Massachusetts who say “I am doing X, Y, and Z because 5-10 years from now I hope to be doing A, B, and C.” Whereas Hawaiians who worked seemed to be content with their lives overall and weren’t living for the future.]

Related:

Attitudes toward work and child labor in Ancient Rome

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SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard sheds some light on the world of work and child labor in the maybe-not-so-good old days.

Would a Roman have worked if he could collect SSDI, live in public housing, shop at the supermarket with EBT, and see a doctor on the taxpayers’ dime?

Cicero turned his scorn on those who worked for a living: ‘The cash that comes from selling your labour is vulgar and unacceptable for a gentleman … for wages are effectively the bonds of slavery.’ It became a cliché of Roman moralising that a true gentleman was supported by the profits of his estates, not by wage labour, which was inherently dishonourable. Latin vocabulary itself captured the idea: the desired state of humanity was otium (not so much ‘leisure’, as it is usually translated, but the state of being in control of one’s own time); ‘business’ of any kind was its undesirable opposite, negotium (‘not otium’).

Unfortunately there was no Welfare State 2000 years ago:

Cicero and most of the elite professed to despise wage labour. But for the majority of the urban inhabitants of the Roman world, as now, their job was the key to their identity. It was usually tough. Most people who needed a regular income to survive (and that was most people) worked, if they could, until they died; the army was an exception in having any kind of retirement package, and even that usually involved working a small farm. Many children worked as soon as they were physically capable, whether they were free or slave. Skeletons of the very young have been discovered in excavations with clear signs in their bones and joints of hard physical labour; one particular cemetery just outside Rome, near an ancient laundry and textile works, contains the remains of young people who obviously had years of heavy work behind them (showing the effects of the stamping and the treading needed in the treatment of cloth, rather than of skipping and ball games). Children are even commemorated as workers in their epitaphs. Modern sensibilities might hope that the simple tombstone in Spain of a four-year-old child, shown carrying his mining tools, was put up in memory of some young local mining mascot. Most likely he was an active worker.

Only the offspring of the rich spent their youth learning grammar, rhetoric, philosophy and how to make speeches – or the less meaty syllabus, from reading and writing to spinning and music, offered to girls. Child labour was the norm. It is not a problem, or even a category, that most Romans would have understood. The invention of ‘childhood’ and the regulation of what work ‘children’ could do only came fifteen hundred years later and is still a peculiarly Western preoccupation. Their tombstones make clear how important work was to the personal identity of ordinary Romans. Whereas Scipio Barbatus, and others like him at the top of the social hierarchy, emphasised the political offices they had held or the battles they had won, many more people blazoned what they did as a job. More than 200 occupations are known in this way from the city of Rome alone. Men and women (or whoever commissioned their memorials) often summarised their careers in just a few words and images, with a job description and some recognisable symbols of their craft. Gaius Pupius Amicus, for example, an ex-slave and by trade a dyer of ‘purple’ – a notoriously expensive dye, extracted from tiny shellfish and according to law used only to colour cloth worn by senators and the emperor – proudly described himself as a purpurarius and had various items of his craft equipment carved on the stone. Other tombs displayed sculptured panels depicting the deceased in action at their job, from midwives and butchers to a particularly splendid seller of poultry.

More: read SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

Local election issues in our rich suburb of Boston

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Three people are running for two “selectmen” seats in our rich suburb of Boston. They came to a neighborhood gathering to campaign and take questions.

The first hot-button issue was whether our town should officially designate itself a “sanctuary city.” (My perspective is that our town is already a sanctuary city in that we welcome any undocumented immigrant with at least $2 million to spend on a house; I refrained from sharing this. See also “Sanctimony Cities”) None of the people at the neighborhood gathering could remember inviting an actual immigrant, documented or undocumented, to a dinner party, but they tripped over themselves to express support for the idea of providing sanctuary. One of the more realistic folks noted that it would be primarily landscapers who were illegal and we should plan acts of resistance if ICE showed up to round up illegals in our sparsely settled village (two-acre zoning minimum).

To a question about school quality and whether or not we should strive to unseat Lexington and Newton in the minds of house-shopping parents, immediately people talked about how we can’t possible match those towns because (1) they spend more money than we do, and (2) we have dark-skinned children in our schools from the METCO program. A town school committee member pointed out that we actually spend more money per student than Lexington and Newton. This web page says “The [Newton] METCO Program is open to all children of African American, Latino, Asian and Native American descent who reside in the City of Boston and volunteer to participate.” This web page says that “It is a voluntary integration program that provides a suburban public school education for African-American, Hispanic and Asian students from Boston. The Lexington Public Schools have participated in the program since 1968.” (See this post about schools in Finland for how a school with an above-average number of poor dark-skinned children tested above average; a teacher is quoted as saying that he tries to remain ignorant of students’ family background and situation.)

Nobody wanted to ask “Well, if these other towns spend less money and also have METCO, might it simply be holding ourselves to a lower standard?” On the other hand, fears were expressed that if we did somehow manage to drag ourselves up to the Lexington/Newton standard, families with children would flock to our town and the schools would become overcrowded (so we provide sanctuary for undocumented immigrants but we hope that they don’t have any school-age kids?).

Traffic was damned. Our roads are narrow, which makes them unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. But if we widen them cars will drive faster and it will become even more dangerous. Nobody asked “If we have two-acre zoning and almost everyone here is rich, why can’t we build dedicated and separated bike lanes and sidewalks like they retrofitted to Copenhagen?”

Valley of the Dolls: Divorce

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Valley of the Dolls describes events taking place between about 1945 and 1965. and was published in 1966. How did the characters think about divorce?

The beautiful 25-year-old is divorcing her husband:

“For a smart girl, she did one very stupid thing. Seems she signed a little thing like a premarital agreement. If she wants out, she doesn’t get a dime. And she wants out. Won’t say why — just wants to unload him. So she’s got to work.”

What precipitated the lawsuit?

“Mother, why do you think I ran? Just before we were to go to Italy, I found out he had no money.” “What do you mean? I saw the pictures in the papers! The diamond necklace, the mink coat. . .” “The necklace belongs in his family. He bought me the mink, but I think he got it free for the publicity we gave the furrier. He had a whole floor at the Waldorf, but a wine company was footing the bill. He was like a good-will ambassador for them. His title is legitimate — very royal — but he hasn’t a dime. They lost everything when Mussolini took over. They have some horrible big castle outside of Naples. I could live there, scrounging among the international set, wearing the family jewels . . . living in genteel poverty. I was lucky I found out in time. He told me he was rich because he thought a beautiful American wife would be an asset over there. After we were married I learned the bitter facts. Then he started telling me of some rich Italian wine merchant I had to play up to — go all the way if the guy wanted me. Mother, he was a high-class pimp, when you get down to it. I was lucky to be able to keep the mink coat.”

A rising star in her early 20s plans a divorce in hopes of an upgraded husband and the conversation gives her friend and idea:

“I got to get fitted for another diaphragm. Twice last month Mel didn’t pull out in time. That sonofabitch is trying to get me pregnant.” “I thought you wanted children.” “Not with him. I’m gonna unload him.” “Neely!” “Look, he’s a drag. Honest, Jennifer, he’s changed completely. He has no incentive. I talked it over with The [movie studio] Head, and he agrees. Mel just gets in the way. He insisted I shouldn’t lose weight, kept yelling I was fine just as I am. But now that I’m losing weight I’m getting the real star buildup with some glamour. See, Mel is in a rut. He’s small time, and he won’t get with it and change. But I gotta be careful. See, there’s community property out here. Mel could claim half of everything.” “What will you do?” “It’s all being worked out.” She lowered her voice to a real whisper. “The Head is seeing to it that Mel gets a big offer in the East. With one of the top publicity offices. I’ll make him go. The Head is going to fix it, have him caught — you know — with a girl. And I’ll get the divorce.” “Neely, you can’t!” “Well, what can I do? I hinted at divorce last week, and you know what he did? He started crying like a baby. He said he couldn’t live without me. Is that a drag? I need a man who tells me what to do, a guy I can lean on, not one who leans on me. And all I’d ever have to do is get knocked up by him and then he’d never leave, not even for New York.”

Jennifer thought about Mel as she drove home. She suddenly wondered how Tony felt about her. Was she a drag, too? If Tony didn’t get the picture she was going to insist they go back to New York. He could do the radio show from there. But he would get the picture. She knew he would. And she’d be stuck here. Soon Tony would start feeling about her like Neely felt about Mel — if he didn’t already. There would be stars playing opposite him in pictures, and young starlets chasing after him. How long could she go on sitting like this? She was almost twenty-seven, and soon it would begin to show. . . . She almost went through a traffic light as the idea hit her. Why hadn’t she thought of it before? A baby! She would have a baby! It would bring Tony closer to her, and she’d have something to occupy her thoughts. Something to love. Oh, God, how she’d love it . . . they’d be so close. It would be a girl, it had to be! And she’d be a wonderful mother. She was exhilarated when she got home. It would be her secret. She dressed with great care for the party. She would start her new project tonight!

Lawyers we interviewed told us that the selling of abortions had begun in the U.S. in the 1990s (see the “History of Divorce” chapter and “Child Support Litigation without a Marriage”). But the book contains an offer by Tony’s sister and minder:

Her eyes shot to Jennifer’s waistline. “No coffee. Let’s cut the social crap and get to cases.” Jennifer held onto her smile. “And what does the case happen to be?” Miriam’s eyes narrowed. “Is it really Tony’s baby?” “Wait till you see it,” Jennifer snapped. “I’m sure it will be the image of him.” Miriam got up and began to pace. Then she turned to Jennifer and said, “How much do you want to get rid of it?” Jennifer’s stare was icy. “Look, if it’s money you want, I’ll give it to you,” Miriam said. “I’ll give you a big settlement. In writing. And you can also have the thousand a week without the baby. Just get rid of it.” Jennifer felt confused. “Does Tony know about this? Is this what he wants?” “No, Tony don’t know I’m here. I told him I was going to Chicago to see his radio sponsor and make a better deal. I’m here on my own, to plead with you, before you get in your fourth month and it’s too late to get rid of it.” Jennifer’s voice was low and tense. “You know, Miriam, I never really hated you until this moment. I always thought you were selfish, but at least it was for Tony. Now I know better. You’re evil.” “And you’re the All-American Mother!” Miriam snorted. “You’re just dying to walk in the park pushing a baby buggy, I suppose?”

An abortion cost $1000 in 1947, $10,762 in 2016 dollars:

She never gave Anne or Henry any reason for her sudden decision. She found the doctor by herself, a nice, antiseptic-looking man in New Jersey. There was a clean operating table and an efficient nurse. It cost a thousand dollars. The nurse jabbed her arm with the needle — sodium pentothal, it was called, and it was a greater sensation than even Seconals. When she woke, it was over. Two weeks later it was as if it had never happened. Her waistline returned to normal and she flew to Mexico for the divorce.

More: Read Valley of the Dolls

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