From our archives,
100 years ago
Robert Gaffney was convicted in Seattle for failing to provide for his family, under what was known as the “lazy husband” law.
The only problem was, Gaffney was no husband.
“Robert” informed the judge she was a woman who had been passing as a man for at least 10 years.
Mrs. Christine Gaffney, who had married Robert four years earlier in Spokane, professed to be as astonished by this revelation as anyone. She said she had never known her husband’s sex. However, Mrs. Gaffney did admit to the judge that her husband had sometimes acted “rather peculiarly.”
Robert told the court she married Mrs. Gaffney because she had a great deal of sympathy for her and wanted to help her and her children out.
However, when the family moved to Seattle, Robert allegedly deserted the family. When a Seattle charity organization found Mrs. Gaffney and her three children living in destitute conditions, Robert was arrested and convicted under the lazy husband law.
Robert – her real name not yet ascertained – reappeared in court the day after the conviction, wearing a dress for the first time in a decade. She then raised a crucial legal question. Could a woman be convicted under the lazy husband law? She asked that the conviction be set aside.
The judge was still trying to figure out what to do.
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