A Look Back in Time: A Custody Battle Series – Part Two of Three

Written by Mary Lou Floyd, CCLS

In 1934, a 10-year-old girl became an unwilling tabloid sensation. She was the subject of a nasty custody battle between her widowed mother and her aunt. The young girl’s father had died in 1925 of cirrhosis of the liver. At the time of his death, he left behind a 19-year-old wife, now a widow, and an 18-month-old daughter. Remember, these events happened between 1924 and 1934. It was a different era with different standards.

What made this case a tabloid sensation? Depression-era Americans were hungry for any news that took their minds off their own troubles. This little girl’s father was the great-grandson of a famous railroad tycoon. Even though this little girl’s father had gambled away his money and racked up lots of debt, there was still part of a family trust that this little girl would inherit – half of five million dollars. This little girl and her mother would live on generous interest payments until the little girl reached the age of 21, pursuant to the terms of the trust. The media dubbed this little girl as “the poor little rich girl” which added another dimension to the case.

The information that was brought out at trial and that the press willingly published for the hungry eyes and ears of the Depression-era Americans contained glimpses into the world of the ultra-rich clan, a neglectful glamorous mother, a scandalous royal affair, and pornography. What year is this again? 1934. Imagine the scandal!

The little girl’s family was immensely wealthy, lived a life of grandeur, and were part of America’s upper class with extreme wealth while Depressions-era Americans lived in extreme poverty.

Problem: A beautiful young widow, hungry for adventure, taking lavish trips to Paris, London, Cannes, Hollywood, Monte Carlo, Biarritz, and Switzerland, partaking in all-night parties, lavish shopping, casino gambling, staying at lavish beach resorts, and mingling with royalty.  I should mention that the young widow’s closest friend was the Marchioness of Milford Haven.

Problem: The little girl was left behind with a nanny who became obsessively possessive over her charge. So much so that she told the little girl her mother might kill her. The stressful and unstable environment made the little girl a sickly child and she developed tonsillitis. The aunt offered to bring the little girl to America for a tonsillectomy. The mother eagerly agreed to allow the aunt to take the little girl to America for the operation and to allow the little girl to stay in Long Island at the aunt’s home to regain her strength.

The little girl had become a healthy young child and her aunt enrolled her in school. Months passed before the mother returned to New York to her daughter. The primary reason the young mother returned was due to her monthly allowance being cut in half because she no longer had her little girl with her. The aunt refused to hand over the little girl and declared the mother was not fit to take care of the little girl.

The young mother made claims against the aunt that she was holding her daughter captive. The aunt sued the mother for full custody.

To be continued…….


Click here to go back and review part one of this series.

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