Friday, June 26, 2015

Sepia Saturday: Caught By Word and Deed

Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.



This week’s Sepia Saturday prompt is all about postcards. My contribution today is not about a wonderful time we had on vacation. Nor is it a simple story of a relative letting a loved one know she is being thought of and missed. It is actually a rather dark tale of an affair and incriminating evidence.

I have told the story before of my great-grandmother’s sister Sallie Jollett Clift, how rumors had circulated that she was running a house of ill-repute. In truth, she had taken in boarders in order to provide for her three children when her husband George no longer did.

George traveled in his job with the railroad, and for over fourteen years he kept many women on the side. The whole sordid story of numerous affairs is part of public record in the divorce case known as Chancery Cause 1913-07, Sallie C. Clift vs George T. Clift.

With over 160 pages of love letters, photos, and postcards, the evidence against George is overwhelming. One postcard came from a long-time girlfriend who always signed off with words like “Your true girl” or “Your little girl.”

Postcard to George Clift from E. E. Buss http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Postcard to George Clift from E. E. Buss http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

From your true little girl. You can’t guess who

Mr. Cliff
Roanoke
112 [ possibly Carlisle Ave]





Their affair lasted for around seven years, and in all that time, she apparently never learned to spell George’s last name.

The other postcards were sent from George to Sallie. The cruel streak that became George’s trademark is evident in each one. Here is a card in which he made light of Sallie’s economic woes.
Postcard from George Clift to Sallie Clift  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com
Postcard from George Clift to Sallie Clift  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com





















On the front of an otherwise innocuous postcard that anyone might send apologizing for not visiting, he scribbled “Roomers Wanted.” The back is even more hurtful though. If Sallie wanted to know why George stayed away, it would cost her 50¢, the same amount boarders paid for a room in Sallie’s house. As if to rub it in, he claimed to be “living fine,” signing off with a silly “ta ta.”


If George had not proved himself one sadistic son-of-a-gun already, there is this postcard to bear witness:

Postcard from George Clift to Sallie Clift  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

Everything is fine [?] till you look on the other Side you___










Postcard from George Clift to Sallie Clift  http://jollettetc.blogspot.com

"Release your clutch and retard your spark" -- These expressions when applied to starting an automobile mean one thing, but surely Sallie saw no humor in the mean-spirited commentary on their marriage masquerading as a playful double-entendre. Was it intentional that he addressed the card to “MISS” Sallie Clift?

On August 18, 1914, Sallie was granted a divorce a mensa et thoro along with sole custody of their three children. Plus she was awarded $7 a week in alimony. She had plenty of character witnesses who stood by her and attested to her noble efforts to care for her family on her own. She also had plenty of neighbors who witnessed George’s cruelty and violence toward her. Even without 160 pages of love letters and postcards, Sallie probably would have won her case. But it didn’t hurt.

Having a wonderful time at Sepia Saturday. Wish you were here.


© 2015, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

34 comments:

  1. Sally was well rid of him, what an objectionable man! Such a shame as I actually really like the postcards. It just goes to show you can’t take anything at face value. Without knowing the story, I would probably have found the cards amusing.

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    1. I know! The Christmas one is pretty but oh goodness.

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  2. You would wonder why he bothered to send postcards at all! His wife was well rid of him, although she must have had to suffer an awful lot beforehand.

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    1. Isn't that the truth! I guess it was worth a penny to spread his venom.

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  3. Oh wow, that had to be quite a scandal back then! I am so glad Sallie did get the divorce from George. She was definitely better off without him! I bet $7 for alimony a week at the time was pretty good money too. Wonder if he paid it.

    betty

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    1. Oh Betty, what those kids witnessed breaks my heart. Talk about scandalous!

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  4. Poor lady to be married to such a cruel man.

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    1. It makes me wonder what their initial attraction was.

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  5. I wonder if he sent those hurtful postcards to get her to agree to divorce him? Divorce back then was a rare thing. Perhaps, even under the awful circumstances, she didn't want the stigma of being a divorced woman & so wouldn't readily agree to a divorce until she was finally goaded to it?

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    1. Actually Sallie did the filing and he wasn't cooperative. I think George couldn't pass up an opportunity to be vicious.

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  6. An enormous amount of detail in the court files obviously. Did he honour the court order for maintenance?

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    1. I suppose so, but I don't know for sure. I have not searched for any follow-up to the case.

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  7. And all those women sent the postcards to George right to the house. What a cruelty. The initial attraction? He most likely didn't act like that when they were courting or with his other women. Glad she got rid of him and doubt she ever saw the $7 he was supposed to provide.

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    1. If George wrote love letters to Sallie that sounded anything like the ones he sent to his girlfriends, I'm sure he was quite a charmer.

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  8. George was certainly a lousy husband, but I enjoyed seeing his mean postcards. I am surprised that they were saved.

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    1. They were saved but not by the family.

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  9. With apologies, Wendy, I have had problems with my typing fingers and decided to delete the earlier comments. Thank you for another fascinating post. I was amazed there were so many postcards and letters, but pleased they were there to help convict George and free Sallie form the abusive relationship,. She was well rid of him and hopefully she could forge a new life for herself and their children. I did wonder if George kept up the alimony payments - I wouldn;t be surprised to hear "no"!.

    Family History Fun

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    1. HA - that's ok Susan. I deleted the false starts. From contact with Sallie's grandchildren, it looks like she had good life. She was certainly a beloved grandmother.

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  10. What an awful story. Are those postcards part of your family collection, or are they archived somewhere, I wonder?

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    1. The cards and love letters are in a folder in the court house or archives in Richmond, Virginia. The divorce case is a chancery cause that has been digitized and is available online through the Library of Virginia.

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  11. This is quite a soap opera to discover in your family history research. Most people would have destroyed incriminating evidence like this after so much time had passed. It demonstrates how even postcard ephemera can have powerful meanings that live beyond the characters time on stage.

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    1. Soap opera, for sure! But as I said to Brett, the cards are part of a court case, not anything saved within the family.

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  12. Well, it speaks volume about the character of Sally. Bravo!!!
    And what judge doesn't like a lot of evidence?!?
    I hope karma took care of George T. Clift.
    What about the alimony? Yeah or Nay?

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    1. It appears that 2 of his 3 children had nothing to do with him after the divorce. I guess that's some karma. I have searched for him in other records to see where he went and what became of him but have found nothing.

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  13. Wendy, that was quite a story. Amazing that George was so self-centered and mean that he most likely never knew or cared about what a horrible person he was --- just a "good fella, eh" -- not so much.

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    1. He was generous with the girlfriends though, it appears.

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  14. I still have trouble buying humorous birthday cards. I laugh at them in the shop but then usually buy something more mundane so that there's no risk of giving offence, even when the card was obviously made especially for the person I had in mind. A sad story.

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    1. I like a GOOD humorous card, but they're getting harder and harder to find.

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  15. Oh Wendy - what a story. Your poor great-great-aunt. Isn't it amazing how when people don't know the truth, their imagination takes flight. Running a house of ill repute indeed.

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    1. Yes, what nerve. George and his gal pals helped fuel that rumor it seems.

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  16. Wow, he was so cruel. I always think about how surprised they would be if they had known that years down the road things things they wrote would be public. In any case, he knew that others could read a postcard....amazing and so so sad for her. I can only imagine what he said in person.

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    1. Really! A lesson to us all -- watch what we write.

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  17. Darn that George. What an awful guy -- so vicious in his comments to Sallie. She must have been glad to be rid of him. I hope he paid the $7.00 each month. I'm sure that would have been a help to her. (The inflation calculator says it would have been about $164.00.)

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    1. I don't know that I will ever learn whether he actually paid but I surely hope so.

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