Del died last Wednesday. She had just married her wife Phyllis Lyon in June. Del was 87.
I just read the obit in the OMAHA WORLD HERALD this morning, and it was all about her work for gay and lesbian rights–and no mention of the book she wrote back in the mid-70s that so influenced my life.
When I first started out as a lawyer back in the mid-70s (at the tender age of 24), for one reason and another I gravitated toward family law and at one time did more divorce work than anyone in the State of Nebraska: several hundred per year.
Back then a large proportion of these divorces required my getting a Restraining Order against abusive husbands. People still joked about “What do you do if your dishwasher stops working? HIT HER!” , or, “What do you say to a woman with two black eyes? Nothing, you’ve told her twice already”, and they would get big laughs. Wife abuse was pervasive–reportedly 50% of wives had been struck by their husbands at some time. Their sons and daughters would witness this, grow up thinking this was normal, and the cycle would continue.
I had women come in with black eyes, broken bones. I had one client that came in more than once after beatings, always to return to her husband. I eventually got her divorced after three false starts, but she still went back to him soon after, and he eventually put her into a wheelchair with some brain damage, served 18 months or so in prison, and, I believe, ended up eventually having the children placed in his custody–what with her being unable to care for them. Those were bad times.
Del wrote the book BATTERED WIVES (available for a penny at Amazon), in the mid-70s, as I was starting to give a number of talks to women’s groups about divorce and abuse. I had the pleasure of meeting her in Omaha when she spoke at a women’s shelter downtown. That was the first I knew that she was a lesbian (and I think Phyllis may have been with her in Omaha for that trip), as, it turns out, were most of the women running the shelter–I was pretty much the only guy at Del’s speech that day.
BATTERED WIVES was the Bible for the spouse abuse issue, and reading it was eye-opening. This was happening in virtually half of households, but women kept it secret and had virtually nowhere to go.
How different now in this age of Oprah and Dr. Phil. Sure it still happens, but I think most women now would leave after the first time they were ever struck.