Block Six: Aunt Eliza’s Star

Barbara Brackman gave us a lovely block to work on this week – a pattern that dates to Martha Washington’s era.  In addition, Barbara related a brief history of Martha’s granddaughter, Eliza Custis.

At age nineteen, Eliza married Mr. Thomas Law, and she may not have made the most suitable choice for a husband – you see, it was said that Mr. Law had a reputation.

The marriage eventually failed due to Mr. Law’s open infidelities, and in the process of divorce, Eliza not only lost the property she brought to the marriage (including property supposedly protected by a prenuptial agreement), but her only child as well.

Children, like a woman’s inheritance, remained with the man after a separation or divorce… In punishing his wife by forbidding her to see her daughter Law was following social and legal tradition on both sides of the Atlantic. His brother Lord Ellenborough, chief justice of the King’s Bench, set British precedent for the male’s sole right to custody in an 1804 case, returning a child to a violent man because the father “is entitled by law to the custody of his child.”  — Barbara Brackman

Until well into the 20th century, with very few exceptions, a woman lost everything during a divorce.  It didn’t matter why the marriage failed, loss of child custody was the likely outcome.

After reading Eliza’s story, I found myself in a retrospective mood when I began selecting fabric for Aunt Eliza’s Star.  One very quiet block was the result.

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