The Troubled Life of Stephen J. Olson — Part II

Stephen J. Olson, my client’s grandfather, fled from Boston in late 1920, after jumping bail on a charge that he fathered the child of a 15-year-old girl (see my last post). He next appears in records in his marriage to my client’s grandmother Agnes McLain. They were married in Philadelphia on Jan. 23, 1923. On Dec. 27, 1923, their oldest daughter Doris was born, then Evelyn on Feb. 4, 1926, and then Velma on July 14, 1928. In 1928, they are listed in the Baltimore City Directory at 1011 East Biddle. Stephen’s occupation is listed as a chauffeur. Sometime in 1928, Stephen left the home. Agnes, now with three daughters age 5 and younger, still lived on East Biddle until 1930, when she moved back to her mother’s home on Wilcox Street.

Meanwhile, Stephen next appeared in records on Jan. 30, 1930, when he married Birdie Wells in Wilmington, Delaware. Five weeks later, he pleaded guilty to a charge of bigamy. He was fined $400 and sentenced to one year in jail to be served at the New Castle County Workhouse.

Olson, Stephen Docket 1930

New Castle County Court of General Sessions, Sessions Dockets, March Term 1930 -January Term 1931, 2805.15, pg. 12.

After his release from jail, Stephen & Birdie began to make a life in Salisbury, Maryland. Twin boys were born on March 3, 1932. They were named Stephen Joseph Olson, Jr and Zedok Henry Olson, after Birdie’s father. However, tragically, little Zedok died of pneumonia on Jan. 14, 1934 at the age of one year and 10 months. Apparently the marriage began to fall apart after that. Birdie sued Stephen for divorce on Oct. 10, 1944, on the grounds of abandonment.

In a deposition that was taken from Birdie in her lawyer’s office, she said that they were married in Baltimore on Jan. 26, 1930, and lived there for about 13 months before they moved to Salisbury. This was actually the time during which Stephen was in jail for bigamy. However, his jail time and the fact that he was still married to his first wife Agnes, my client’s grandmother, as the deposition was being taken, was never mentioned.

Birdie stated in her deposition that after the birth of her son, she became afflicted with arthritis, and that her husband Stephen became uninterested in her, and started “going around with other women”. The fact that there was another son, and that he died, was never mentioned. Birdie also stated that, under an agreement they made in “Peoples Court”, Stephen had been paying $3.00 per week for the support of Stephen, Jr.  Her lawyer asked if she was satisfied with that, and she stated, “Three dollars a week is not very much on which to keep a boy 12 years old. Mr. Olson works and makes at least $25.00 a week and should be able to pay $5.00 a week.”

A divorce decree was issued on Dec. 14, 1944. Child support payments were kept at $3.00 per week.

In 1946, two years after his divorce from Birdie, Stephen apparently wanted to finally take care of the fact that, 18 years after their separation, a year in jail and one full marriage and divorce later, he was still married to his first wife Agnes. There may have been another woman in the picture by that point. It is uncertain when he married  his third wife  Minnie,  but records indicate that he was married by 1948,  so it could very well be that she was in the picture in 1946.  In any case,  Stephen now had grounds for divorce under Maryland law, that being his and Agnes’s separation for over 5 years. (Prior to the “no-fault” divorce laws enacted in the 1960s & 1970s, in most states, including Maryland, in order to have grounds to get a divorce, you had to either prove marital fault on the part of the other person, e.g., adultery, abandonment, cruelty, etc., or you had to show that you had been living apart voluntarily for some number of years — in Maryland, that number was five).  So, in Maryland, if the time of voluntary separation had been less than five years, you couldn’t get a divorce unless your spouse committed a marital crime, or agreed to the divorce. And the person committing the marital crime couldn’t get a divorce unless the spouse agreed.  And clearly Agnes had not agreed early on. Hence, the bigamy.

But at that point, 18 years after their separation, Stephen then had grounds for a divorce, and Agnes didn’t have a legal leg to stand on. And she had gone for a very long time here without getting alimony, common those days, or presumably, child support. The daughters were then 23, 20 & 18. So, before the actual divorce proceedings began, on Aug. 21, 1946, Agnes & Stephen entered into a contract. Stephen paid $200, which was put into escrow for Agnes. He also agreed to pay an additional $1800, payable in weekly installments of $10 per week until it was paid (about 3 ½ years). They didn’t call it alimony, and Agnes gave up any right to file any claim for alimony or support or maintenance. She gave up any rights as a widow and any rights to any of his property. She agreed that she would answer a divorce claim and would submit to the passage of a divorce decree. Stephen agreed to pay all court costs and the costs of both his lawyer and her lawyer.

Many untruths were spoken in depositions in the subsequent divorce case that Agnes has agreed, by contract, to submit to. The fact that Stephen was married to Birdie during his and Agnes’ marriage and that he served time in prison for bigamy was never mentioned. The fact that the separation was not “voluntary” on the part of Agnes was not mentioned.

In any case, the contract between Stephen and Agnes was signed on Aug. 21, 1946. The divorce was decreed, finally, in Nov. 1946. Stephen went on to marry a woman named Minnie. He passed away on Nov. 8, 1967 in Salisbury.

Sources: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Marriage Index, 1885-1951, Ancestry.com, 2011, Provo, UT, USA.                                                                                                                             Delaware Marriage Records, 1806-1933, Ancestry.com, 2010, Provo, UT, USA.
U.S., Find A Grave Index, 1600s-Current, Ancestry.com, 2012, Provo, UT, USA.
1930 United States Federal Census, Baltimore, Baltimore (Independent City), Maryland; Roll: 853; Page: 4B; Enumeration District: 0117; Image: 467.0; FHL microfilm: 2340588, Ancestry.com, 2002, Provo, UT, USA.
New Castle County Court of General Sessions, Sessions Dockets, March Term 1930 -January Term 1931, 2805.15, pg. 12.
New Castle County Workhouse, Board of Trustees, Commitment Book, 1918 – 1939.
New Castle County Workhouse, Board of Trustees, Discharge Book, Vol I, 1918 – 1950.
The Cornell Daily Sun, Volume 55, Number 89, January 23, 1935.
Daily Illini, July 31, 1932.
U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Baltimore, Maryland, Baltimore Historical Society, Baltimore, Maryland.
U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Baltimore, Maryland, Ancestry.com, 2011, Provo, UT, USA.
State of Maryland, Certificate of Death #66927, Zedok Henry Olson, Jan. 14, 1934, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 6830 Chancery, Birdie Ella Olson vs. Stephen Joseph Olson, Bill of Complaint for Divorce, Oct. 10, 1944, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 6830 Chancery, Birdie Ella Olson vs. Stephen Joseph Olson, Examiner’s Return, Nov 30, 1944, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 6830 Chancery, Birdie Ella Olson vs. Stephen Joseph Olson, Decree of Divorce, Dec. 14, 1944, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 7390 Chancery, Stephen J. Olson vs. Agnes Olson, Complaint, Sept. 9, 1946, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.                                                                                                                                       Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 7390 Chancery, Stephen J. Olson vs. Agnes Olson, Examiner’s Return, Oct, 23, 1946, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 7390 Chancery, Stephen J. Olson vs. Agnes Olson, Decree of Divorce, Nov. 4, 1946, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.
Circuit Court for Wicomico County and State of Maryland, No. 7390 Chancery, Stephen J. Olson vs. Agnes Olson, Agreement and Power of Attorney, Nov. 4, 1946, Archives of Maryland, Annapolis, Maryland.

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