Indiana Marriages in 1930's

Contributed by Billy Baker

Union City Evening Times, Monday, October 18, 1937

Richmond, Ind. -- An unofficial opinion of Attorney General O. S. Jackson that marriage licenses issued to couples where the woman applicant was not a resident of Indiana were not legal brought forth an opposite opinion of County Clerk Russell Robbins who said he had been informed by a law firm here and by a former attorney general that licenses could be issued to such couples.

The opinion of the attorney general pertained to a situation in Lake county where many Illinois couples are obtaining marriage licenses to evade the eugenics law of that state, but if the view is sustained it will apply also to counties bordering the Ohio line.

The issuance of marriage licenses in Richmond has increased by leaps and bounds since Ohio adopted a law requiring an interval of five days between the application for and the granting of the license. In 1931 slightly more than 900 licenses were issued by the county clerk. The annual average over a period of years was about 750. Ian the first six months of this year, however, 1657 licenses had been granted, and it is believed the total for 1937 will be approximately 3500, a new high record for any 12 month period.

Last year the county clerk issued 2955 licenses compared with 721 in 1927. In 1934 the number of licenses exceeded the 2000 mark for the first time in the history of the county; in 1935 the number was 2615.

County Clerk Robbins said he had been informed that there is no residence requirement for marriage licenses in Indiana. Many of the Ohio women give their residence as Richmond when they apply for a license with their respective husbands. One justice of the peace has establishe his office in a former storeroom opposite the courthouse and has a sign advising couples that he is qualified to marry them.

Indiana county clerks do not keep the fees for the licenses but they sell marriage certificates ranging in price from $1 to $5 and this money belongs to them. Their interest in the matter in this respect is a pecuntary one, although County Clerk Robbins said he was in favor of an eugenics law in Indiana.


Union City Evening Times, Thursday, December 2, 1937

Richmond, Ind. -- Marriage licenses issued here by Russell Robbins, Wayne county clerk, dropped from 271 in November, 1936 to 213 for the month just ended, due largely to refusal of the clerk to issue licenses to couples where the woman admitted she was not a Wayne county resident, Robbins admitted. The action is in compliance with the Indiana law.

When legal action was taken at Crown Point by the Lake county prosecutor to restrain issuance of marriage licenses in that county to out-of-state couples, the Wayne county clerk immediately announced his stand, pending settlement of the action, which is now before the state supreme court on appeal.

He said that scores of couples had been turned away from his office.

Wayne county's office has been doing a "land office" business for many months because of the hundreds of Ohio couples who have come to Richmond for marriage licenses. Ohio's marriage law forces a five-day waiting period, and this has resulted in a stampede for licenses here, only four miles from the Ohio state line.

Robbins, who formerly was secretary of the Indiana County Clerks Association, said he hoped the next legislature "would pass a eugenics marriage laws."


Union City Evening Times, Thursday, December 16, 1937

Indianapolis, Ind. -- Confronted with increasing popularity of Indiana border cities as "Gretna Greens," members of the Indiana County Clerks' association urged complete recodification of the state's marriage laws.

The resolution shared interest with "home rule" discussions and township trustees' requests for stricter requirements for poor relief at the opening of the third annual three-day convention of public officers' groups organized under the Indiana Association of County and Township Officials.

Charles R. Ettinger, deputy clerk of Marion Circuit court, who was elected secretary of the clerks' organization, led the attack on existing marriage laws of Indiana which, he said, permitted couples to escape tighter laws of other states.

"As marriage is a matter of public health and welfare," Ettinger told the association, "it is your duty to see that the laws governing marriage be safeguarded and enforced. Our present marriage law was enacted in 1863 and amended only in minor ways in 1897 and 1905, and because of numerous opinions and interpretations it should be clarified and recodified by the next legislature.

"The proximity of a few spots in Indiana to near-by states has given them the names of 'Gretna Greens' which, unless properly regulated will reflect on the dignity of the state of Indiana and break down the good which might come from reasonable marriage and health regulations."

He referred principally to western Indiana cities near Illinois, which requires couples to take physical examinations before obtaining marriage licenses.

Union City Evening Times, Wednesday, January 5, 1938

Indianapolis, Ind. --- Lake county brought its "marriage mill" scramble before the state's highest tribunal today with oral arguments involving an 1852 marriage law. Constitutionality of the law, unearthed recently in an attempt to close northern Indiana Gretna Greens, was attacked by George E. Hershman, Lake county attorney, who is seeking to remove a temporary injuction issued against Dr. George W. Sweigert, Lake county clerk.

Union City Evening Times, Thursday, January 6, 1938

Indianapolis, Ind. --- Arguments on the constitutionality of Indiana's 1852 marriage law, which provides that marriage licenses be issued only in home counties of prospective brides, were studied by the state supreme court.

Fred Egan, Lake County prosecutor, quoted the law recently in obtaining a temporary injunction which prevented Dr. George W. Sweigert, Lake County clerk, from issuing licenses to out-of-the-state couples. Egan declared many Lake county towns - Crown Point in particular - had become Gretna Greens.

George E. Hershman, attorney for Sweigar, asked the high court to remove the injunction. He argued the law was invalid and did not apply to Illinois residents who came to Indiana to obtain marriage licenses.

"It is the duty of the parties concerned to get their licenses in the proper county," Hershman contended.

He maintained the 1852 statue was repealed by a 1905 law, which sets out the present form for marriage license applications.

Hershman questioned the authority of the Lake Circuit Court to issue an injuction to prevent violation of a "quasi-criminal statute."

John Stanton, Lake County deputy prosecutor, who represented Eagan, denied the 1905 statute "repealed either by fact or imolication" the 1852 law. He contended the 1905 act was "supplemental" to the older law.

The 1852 law, Stanton argued, "relieved the clerk of liability for misdemeanor and created a forfeiture to the state."

Union City Evening Times, Wednesday, January 12, 1938

Indianapolis, Ind. --- Cracking out at "one of this nation's greatest evils," the Indiana supreme court has closed down the state's Gretna Greens by forbidding the issuance of marriage licenses to any out-of-state women.

In a sharply worded opinion by Justice James P. Hughes, the court upheld constitutionality of an 1852 act providing that marriage permits shall be issued only by "the clerk of the county where the female resides."

The ruling was a death knell for the prosperous "marriage mills" in Crown Point, Valparaiso, South Bend, Richmond and other northern and eastern Indiana county seat points which have grossed tens of thousands of dollars since neighboring states passed more stringent marriage laws.

The Indiana court was terse and direct in attacking the marriage mills. It said that every county clerk who has issued a marriage license to a nonresident woman violated a law which "is still in effect."

"If it is the public policy that the license can only be issued to femal residents of the state in the county in which they live, why is it not just as important on grounds of public policy that a license shall not be issued to a nonresident female?" the court asked.

The court pointed out that the 1852 act evidently was passed for the purpose of preventing hasty and secret marriages which "are often entered into ill-advisedly and to the great harm of the marriage relations which the state has an interest in upholding."

No mention was made in the opinion as to the legality of thousands of marriages involving non-resident women which have been performed in the past.

Union City Evening Times, Thursday, February 3, 1938

Indianapolis, Ind. --- The question of child marriages and whether they should be permitted in emergencies became the first knotty problem for the Governor's committee of 50 as it met for the first time to consider a revision of the state's marriage laws.

After hearing conflicting opinions from various members, it was voted to turn the matter over to a technical committee to be named by Dr. Verne K. Harvey, state health commissioner, and committee chairman.

Union City Evening Times, Thursday, February 10, 1938

Editorial - Marriage Law Revision - Some time ago Governor Townsend announced he would recommend in the next legislature that Indiana's marriage laws be revised, looking especially to abolishment of the Gretna Greens. In following out this idea he has asked some 50 persons, physicians, lawyers, social workers, representatives of women's organizations, clergymen, judges, county clerks and state legislators to compose a committe to study the state's marriage laws looking toward revision. The committee has been called to meet Feb. 2 and it is presumed that after a thorough study of the situation it will recommend a bill to the governor. Revision of the laws has been advocated for some time by civic and religious groups. The state supreme court, recently ruled that prospective brides must be residents of the county where the license is obtained and this has tended to halt the practice of couples from other states flocking into Indiana. There has also been a wave of child marriages. The committee is expected to work out a policy for future marriage legislation.

Union City Evening Times, Wednesday, November 23, 1938

Editorial - Marriage Fees

The 1939 general assembly will consider a model marriage law. The unofficial commission appointed to write this bill has been collecting evidence from other states and within the next few weeks will begin preparing the measure. The emphasis has been place on the necessity for health tests and the possibility of an interval of three to five days between the date of the application and the date when the license is issued. Little has been said about what brought the marriage mills into existence and fostered their continuation.

County clerks would not have provided 24 hour service in border counties if there had been nothing in this extra effort for them. They demand $2 as the legal fee for a marriage license and everything they can collect in addition to that goes into their pockets. A new marriage law should make it impossible for clerks to look upon the issuance of marriage licednses as a transaction out of which they can derive private gain.

When a man buys a combination hunting and fishing license he pays $1.50 for it, no matter where he makes the purchase. He would be incensed if some official wrapped up with the hunting license a picture of a quail, a rabbit or a bass, and announced that the customer owed $2 or $3 more than the legal license fee. Other county officials are limited by law in the amount which they may charge the public for miscellaneous services. There is an old statute which says that no official may collect a fee in excess of what the law permits, but it has never been applied to marriage licenses. As long as the law does not expressly ban the fee that clerks collect for unauthorized lithographs when they issue marriage licenses the incentive to sell as many licenses as possible will remain and any law, new or old, will be difficult to enforce.

Union City Evening Times, Thursday, December 28, 1939

Law To Raise Marriage Fees To Hoosiers.

Indianapolis, Ind. --- The cost of matrimony for Hoosier newlyweds will take a sudden jump March 1, 1940, when the new anti-syphillis marriage law takes effect.

The law, approved by the 1939 legislature, provides that each applicant for a marriage license must take a physical examination, including a standard serological test.

Then the marriage license cannot be issued unless both applicants are free of the disease, or if infected, do not have it in communicable form.

All blood tests must be made in the state board of health laboratory, or in laboratories that meet standards of the pathology department of the Indiana University School of Medicine and approved by the state board of health.

Court clerks estimated that after the law takes effect the groom must pay from $5 to $9 for the marriage license. The fee for the license will remain at $2 but $1 fees for each party for examination of the specimens by the laboratory and for the physical examinations must be added.

The clerk, too, expected a sudden rush of business during February from couples that planned to marry in March or April. They explained that the license is valid for 60 days, so many were expected to get the license just before the new law takes effect.

Union City Times-Gazette, Wednesday, August 28, 1940

Darke Co. Marriage Licenses Hit All-Time High.

Darke county's marriage license total for the month of August now stands at 59, the highest ever noted for a single month in the history of the probate court.

The previous record of 56 licenses was established in April, 1917, the month that the United States entered the World War.

The current rush, also directly attributed to another war scare, is being experienced in all sections of the nation. Press dispatches reveal that in New York City alone 1,500 marriage license applications were received last Saturday.

Four more couples obtained licenses here yesterday. They were

Carl Brandenburg, 22, Montgomery Co, and Mary Flory, 22, Arcanum.
Herbert L. Terry, 37, Kokomo, Ind., and Margaret Burnette, 24, Union City.
Delbert A. Scott, 32, Bradford, and Ruby Hill, 29, Franklin township.
David M. Krabill, 26, Smithville, O., and Esther Drill, 25, Greenville township.

Union City Times-Gazette, Tuesday, September 3, 1940

May Get Licenses in Any County Now.

Provided they have complied with health requirements and present proper certificates, couples can obtain marriage licenses in Indiana in any county and are not necessarily confined to the county in which they reside. This is in accordance with the change in the marriage license law, Philip Kabel, county clerk, has been advised in a communication from Charles I. Barry, Jr., deputy attorney general.

Until the law was changed it had provided that licenses were obtainable only in the county in which the bride-to-be maintained legal residence. Now, regardless of the place of residence of either contracting party, so long as they have passed the required medical examination and been issued certificates in the regular procedure, they can procure licenses in any county of their choice.

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