Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness: A Notorious Divorce in Early Twentieth-Century America with Connections to New Hampshire
Nov. 8, 7-9pm. $5 admission and free for Woodman Museum members.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF TALK
The bitter and public court battles waged between Nina and James Walker, from 1909 to 1916, created a sensation throughout the nation, with lurid accounts of their marital troubles fueling widespread gossip. 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. Many of the issues raised still resonate today.
Although the Walker case drew widespread national attention at the time, Jean Elson’s book, Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness, is the first book to recount what happened. The Walkers both came from prominent American families. James Walker’s father, Admiral John Grimes Walker, was a native of New Hampshire and had close Woodman family friends. His children grew up while he was stationed at the Portsmouth Naval Yard, and James attended St. Paul’s in Concord. James and Nina Walker returned to the area when James, a Navy lieutenant, was also stationed in Portsmouth. They sent their children to the local public schools. Nina Walker filed for divorce soon after the family left Portsmouth, and she declared that their stay here “proved to be the calm before the storm.”
The Walker story has several twists and a fascinating cast of characters. Book reviews have indicated “Gross Misbehavior and Wickedness chronicles the Walkers’ seven-year divorce battle with meticulous research and vivid narration,” that it “reads like a contemporary detective novel,” and is “a moving and captivating book.”
Jean Elson is Senior Lecturer Emerita in the Department of Sociology at the University of New Hampshire. During her tenure at UNH, Dr. Elson taught classes and lectured on the topics of gender, family, women’s health and illness, and sexual behavior. She received several teaching awards, including the “Vagina Warrior Award” from the V-Day Committee and the “Pink Triangle Award” from the LGBTQ Community. Jean served as an appointed member of the UNH President’s Commission on the Status of Women.
Jean Elson holds a PhD in Sociology and a Master’s in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Brandeis University, where she received academic awards and fellowships, including the Graduate Grant Prize for Research in Women’s Studies. She was awarded the Elizabeth Stanton Michaels Fellowship by the National American Association of University Women.
Jean Elson’s previous book, “Am I Still a Woman?” Hysterectomy and Gender Identity, received enthusiastic reviews from both the popular and academic press. She is also author of a chapter in Our Bodies Ourselves: Menopause. Jean has written articles and been interviewed for a variety of journals, newspapers, and magazines and has appeared on several radio and television programs.
Jean has two grown children, Dave and Jessy, both married, and a grandson, Max. She and her husband Tom have traveled extensively in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Latin America.