Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness
A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America
This fascinating story of the troubled marriage and acrimonious divorce of Nina and James Walker elucidates early twentieth-century gender and family mores
The bitter and public court battle waged between Nina and James Walker of Newport, Rhode Island from 1909 to 1916 created a sensation throughout the nation with lurid accounts of—and gossip about—their marital troubles. The ordeal of this high-society couple, who wed as much for status as for love, is one of the prime examples of the growing trend of women seeking divorce during the early twentieth century.
Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness—the charges Nina levied at James for his adultery (with the family governess) and extreme cruelty—recounts the protracted legal proceedings in juicy detail.
Jean Elson uses court documents, correspondence, journals, and interviews with descendants to recount the salacious case. In the process, she underscores how divorce—in an era when women needed husbands for economic support—was associated with women's aspirations for independence and rights. The Walkers' dispute, replete with plot twists and memorable characters, sheds light on a critical period in the evolution of American culture.