Past Times

A sociologist looks at love and marriage

A young couple on Gillikin Island in Onslow County around 1939.
A young couple on Gillikin Island in Onslow County around 1939. Charles A. Farrell Photograph Collection, N.C. State Archives

On a 1929 visit to North Carolina that was reported in The News & Observer, famed sociologist and public welfare reformer Gertrude Vaile had a little something to say on the subject of love and marriage.

Society is paying too much attention to “romantic love” and too little to “married love” – that’s one of the chief reasons for our steadily rising divorce wave.

This condition is due in considerable measure to the movies which usually make much ado about the “romantic love” of the hero and heroine before they get the couple married and then spend gobs of time in showing how homes are wrecked rather than how “married love” is kept happy.

Such is the frank view of one who has been engaged in social welfare work for 20 years, in big towns and small towns and in rural districts, almost from one end of the country to the other – one who has held positions of the highest trust with the various organizations with which she has been connected.

Reference is to Miss Gertrude Vaile, who was president of the National Conference for Social Service in 1926 and who has long been one of the country’s outstanding welfare workers.

Miss Vaile is spending the scholastic year 1928-29 studying at the University of North Carolina. She humorously refers to it as her sabbatical year in welfare work, and she confesses that she decided this to be the best place to get a fresh point of view of social science. She was referring of course to the leadership and wide renown of the University’s School of Public Welfare.

Miss Vaile came to Chapel Hill for both study and rest. She preferred to keep out of the limelight, and for that reason there are comparatively few people in the State who know that she is here.

During her score of years in ministering to the needy Miss Vaile has specialized in family case work. There is probably no family trouble under the sun that she has not met during her varied experiences. She has fed mothers and babes when the fathers would not or could not work, she has affected many a reconciliation between husbands and wives who had long despaired of getting along together; she has been the foster mother of countless households whose undying gratitude she quickly won.

So, when Miss Vaile is willing to give her views on the much-discussed subject of modern marriage, one must be eager to sit up and take notice.

Training for marriage and parenthood is one of the big needs, she says, when the subject of possible remedies is suggested.

Why should people enter marriage blindly so frequently when in making other kinds of contracts they take all possible safeguards? she asks.

Changes in the laws of many of the states can do a great deal of good along this line, she answers. Many states have age limits but in some states the limits are 16 and 18 or worse.

Published notices of intention to marry seven or more days in advance is another remedy Miss Vaile suggests.

One can’t get away from the fact that the churches have a big part to solving the divorce problem, she says. There is the role of the clergymen, of course, and there is the suggestion that the churches might set up civic groups for a study of the question.

Miss Vaile does not put much faith in the high cost of living theory as the explanation for so many wrecked homes. Sacrifices develop the strongest type of loyalty, is her answer to that suggestion.

“We must recognize the fact that the family is changing,” Miss Vaile says, “but I am not a bit pessimistic about the future.” The new mode of living makes for greater fellowship between husband and wife. Of course the fact that women have wider outlooks and more equal rights makes a chance for friction, but it also makes for more that’s fine.

“Husbands and wives are becoming more like pals,” which is as it should be, for it makes for more democratic relationship. If there is proper mating in the first place there is more chance for real happiness.

“I don’t see how women with little children can work away from home much of the time and be good mothers. Some women seem to be able to do it, however. Work for women who are not needed at home should help rather than hinder a happy marriage relationship.”

Miss Vaile is unstinted in her praise of the work of Director Howard Odum and his colleagues in the University’s School of Public Welfare. It ranks with the best in the country, she says.

She is equally enthusiastic about the work of the State Department of Charities and Public Welfare under the directorship of Mrs. Kate Burr Johnson. North Carolina and Iowa are fartherest ahead in county welfare work, she says. –The N&O, 2/24/1929

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