Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The Strong Woman: There's One in Every Family - Part II

"The Drunkards Progress: From the First Glass to the Grave"
Note the woman and child standing under the bridge.

This article has been difficult for me to write. As a genealogist - and a descendant of the main characters - I wanted to do justice to the story. I think we're always looking for "one more": one more vital record, one more news article, one more photo, one more book... one more anything that will shed light on what really happened. At some point, we need to stop looking and just write... which can be harder than it sounds.

And while I'm still looking for one more, I need to just write.

Read The Strong Woman: There's One in Every Family - Part I

*   *   *

From "The Daily Times"
(Portsmouth, Ohio)
February 25, 2899
On February 6, 1899, Louise Faivre's life as she knew it was about to change. Unbeknownst to her, husband Andrew and a few of his buddies shared a bucket of beer in the shop after work, and then headed out to the local saloons for a few more drinks.

Several hours and several bottles later, Andrew and a buddy boarded the train for home. Andrew supposedly got off at the correct stop, but in his intoxicated condition, fell down and spent the night in a snow drift. And it was an extremely cold night – some reports say as cold as 10 below zero. Andrew was badly frozen by the time he was found the next morning (one newspaper reported that he had been frozen to death). His fingers and toes were badly frostbitten, requiring amputation of all of his fingers, and at least one of his toes. He got to keep his thumbs.

Having no fingers would certainly make his job as a tailor difficult, if not impossible.

The temperance movement was in full swing at this time, and there was a law on the books allowing a wife damages against "persons who sold her husband liquor against her wishes, causing him to suffer permanent injury." In March 1899, Louise filed suit against three of the saloonkeepers for $10,000 in damages.

After all, she had warned them. And she meant business.

From "The Des Moines Leader"

(Des Moines, IA)
April 13, 1902

The case went to trial, and was anything but easy. After two mistrials, Louise eventually asked for a change of venue, claiming that there was so much influence from the liquor industry in Woodbury County that it was impossible for her to receive a fair trial. The judge agreed. The case was moved to Onawa, in Monona County, and after a few preliminary battles, went to trial.

On May 3, 1900, after three days of lawyers putting up what was called "one of the hardest fights in the history of Monona County," the jury ruled in Louise Faivre's favor. She was awarded $6,000 in damages, although only two of the saloonkeepers were found guilty.

The saloonkeepers were not going down without a fight, and immediately filed a motion for a new trial.

However, almost two years later, in April of 1902, the Iowa State Supreme Court would uphold the lower court's ruling, and again award Louise $6,000 in damages against the two booze-giving saloonkeepers.

In late November of 1902, Louise would finally receive compensation of $7,123 (the extra $1,123 was for "costs and interest," since the unpaid initial judgment of $6,000 had been due in May 1900).

A drop in the bucket, even for those times.

This trial was watched closely by many people, particularly the liquor industry, and made headlines in newspapers across the country. The case is featured in several scholarly articles and books, including Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States(which I received from last week).

From Manhood Lost: Fallen Drunkards and Redeeming Women in the Nineteenth-Century United States, p. 3

It is also thought that this case, and others like it, were contributing factors in the passage of the 18th Amendment – Prohibition.

(Interestingly, Iowa was the 31st state out of 46 to ratify the 18th Amendment, doing so on January 15, 1919, almost 20 years after Andrew Faivre's fateful freezing.)

*   *   *

Needless to say, Louise's life could not have been an easy one. She persevered through what must have been an unhappy marriage, the loss of so many children, her husband's alcoholism, permanent injury and loss of income, as well as 4 very public trials, including one at the Supreme Court level.

When her husband couldn't perform his duties as the "man of the house," she stepped up to the plate.

And oddly enough, through the good, bad, and ugly, she and Andrew stayed together. One Connecticut newspaper reported the headline of "Drunkards Wife Gets Divorce," but that never happened. Census records show that Louise and Andrew were still together, still married, and living in Union County, South Dakota, in 1920.

Only a very strong - and very patient - woman wouldn't have kicked the bum out.

Andrew Faivre died on November 11, 1928, at the age of 75. No mention is made on his death certificate of any illness related to drinking. Hopefully he learned his lesson and gave up the bottle.

Louise died at a hospital in Sioux City, Iowa, on June 15, 1942, at the age of 87. She was still living in South Dakota at the time of her death.

Both are buried together at Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Sioux City.

*   *   *

You can bend but never break me
'Cause it only serves to make me
More determined to achieve my final goal
And I come back even stronger
Not a novice any longer
'Cause you've deepened the conviction in my soul

I am woman
I am invincible
I am strong

I am woman

"I Am Woman"
By Helen Reddy and Ray Burton

Written for the 100th Edition Carnival of Genealogy: "There's One in Every Family!" Read Part I here.

Copyright © by Elizabeth O'Neal

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Heather Rojo said...

I went to a concert where re-enactors sang temperance, sufferage and abolishionist music from the "Hutchinson Family Singers". One of the more poignant songs was "Father, Dear Father, Come home with me now". I remember that song more than any other I heard that night, and it came back to me when I read your post. It made the audience cry, and you can find it at

Amanda (the librarian) said...

Fsscitating story, Elizabeth! Thanks for sharing!

Nolichucky Roots said...

Well done, Elizabeth. It's a tough topic (more than a few echoes of our families there) and one I've never been able to tackle. Your Louise was more than a survivor - she made sure her children survived, as well. Strong woman indeed. Thank you for writing this.

Cindy Bergeron Scherwinski said...

Well written E~ I am guilty of always looking for the next elusive ancestor or wondering where (insert name here) disappeared to but your post reminds me that I have more than enough to keep me out of mischief if I just settle down and put the stories I have on paper ... I mean to blog ... whatever. Louise is certainly living proof that what doesn't kill you will make you stronger. Thanks for sharing.

Lisa Wallen Logsdon said...

Well that was an interesting read Elizabeth, good job!

Not to make light of what was a serious situation at the time, but that night spent in the snow drift will now give me a new vision this season when I hear the song "Please Daddy, don't get drunk this Christmas...I don't wanna see my Momma cry..."

Lisa Louise Cooke said...

I'm glad you did "just write" because I "just read" and thoroughly enjoyed it. Thanks!

dee-burris said...

Excellent storytelling.

That's why I love blogging. It lets us tell the stories of our ancestors and relatives, instead of just reciting the historic facts in fields in software, that translate to lines in the published family tree.

And you did this one very well. I loved reading it.

Janice Tracy said...

Elizabeth, I enjoyed your factual, yet touching post about such a serious and sad set of circumstances. Louise was truly a saint. She fought for what she believed was right, and fortunately, the legal system worked.
Thank you for sharing Louise's story with us.

Gena Philibert Ortega said...

What an amazing story. I love that Louise decided to fight back and try to get some compensation for the loss she and her kids suffered. I think her story would be a great book or a longer article, in case you have a few moments to write that up....

Barbara Poole said...

What a sad story, but so beautifully written and researched. Amazing that she stayed with her husband after all that. Very nice Elizabeth. I agree with Gena, it would make for a very interesting book or long article, perhaps for a magazine.

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Thank you all for your very, very kind comments. I really thought the post(s) came out a bit dry, but I didn't have anything but facts to work off of, and I didn't want to turn it into historical fiction.

Gena and Barbara, I've actually been thinking about doing that. Any recommendations on who to send an article to? My local genealogical society's publication, maybe? I'm not sure I can come up with enough for a book, but that's certainly an interesting thought!

While doing research for this article, I discovered that Louise's eldest daughter Bernice moved to Ventura, divorced, remarried, and died there. Ventura is only about 90 miles from where I live now, so I'm heading down there today to try to get her death certificate and find out a bit more about her life (for you easterners, we southern Californians think anything that's less that 2 hours away is practically right next door, so a 180 mile RT is nothing to us)!

This is really turning out to be a fascinating story... one that NOBODY in my family ever talked about! Thank you all for taking the time to read it.

P.S. Lisa, I have to find those song lyrics!

P.S.S. NR, sadly, Andrew wasn't the only drunk in my family. There were others, but they didn't stick around to raise their families. Maybe losing a few fingers is an important lesson.

Kerry Scott said...

Wow. That was worth the wait.

Kristin said...

What a very sad story. I hope you do write an article about it. When we lived up in the Michigan north woods a mother of 4 children went to a party. her husband was home with the kids. she was drunk, walking home in the freezing, snowy winter, she passed out. The snow plow found her body in the morning.

Apple said...

For a piece you found difficult to write you did an awesome job! Louise was certainly a strong woman to continue the battle and keep the family together despite the roadblocks thrown at her. I like to think for every embarrassing ancestor in our trees there is a very strong one to provide balance.

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Kerry - Thank you!

Kristin - What is it about drinking and passing out in snow drifts? Apparently drinking and walking in snow just don't mix! I'm assuming that when you say "found her body" that she didn't make it. How sad that must have been for her children.

Apple - Thank you, and you're right. I seem to have a lot of embarrassing ancestors cropping up these days, so I'm trying to focus on the strong ones.

Barbara Poole said...

Elizabeth, I don't have any connections, but I would go more national, not local. Ask Tom or Randy for advice or even Leslie and Lisa (the last write for magazines), they could have suggestions. I hope it works out.

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Thanks, Barbara. I'll do that.

Kim von Aspern-Parker said...

Wow, do you write well. What a great read. Truly, enjoyed it. You handled a tough subject with grace, dignity and strength.

a3Genealogy, Kathleen Brandt said...

Wonderful story. I couldn't find part2, until just now. Love it!

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Thanks @Kim. It was interesting from a storyteller's perspective, but difficult to write as a descendant. I'm sure you know how that goes.

Elizabeth O'Neal said...

Thanks for reading, Kathleen!