CHAPTER VI.

CONJUGAL CONDITION.

15. The Seventh Ward.--The conjugal condition of the Negroes above fifteen years of age living in the Seventh Ward is as follows:1

 

Conjugal Condition.

Males.

Per Cent.

Females.

Per Cent.

Single

1,482

41.4

1,240

30.5

Married

1,876

52.5

1,918

47.1

Widowed

200

6.1

841

22.4

Permanently separated

18

 

66

 

Total

3,576

100.00

4,065

100.0

Unknown

125

 

179

 

Under 15

800

 

930

 

Total population

4,501

 

5,174

 

 

For a people comparatively low in the scale of civilization there is a large proportion of single men--more than in Great Britain, France or Germany; the number of married women, too, is small, while the large number of widowed and separated indicates widespread and early breaking up of family life.2 The number of single women is probably lessened by unfortunate girls, and increased somewhat by deserted wives who report themselves as single. The number of deserted wives, however, allowing for false reports, is astoundingly large and presents many intricate problems. A very large part of charity given to Negroes is asked for this reason. The causes of desertion are partly laxity in morals and partly the difficulty of supporting a family.

The lax moral habits of the slave regime still show themselves in a large amount of cohabitation without marriage. In the slum districts there are many such families, which remain together years and are in effect common law marriages. Some of these connections are broken by whim or desire, although in many cases they are permanent unions.

The economic difficulties arise continually among young waiters and servant girls; away from home and oppressed by the peculiar lonesomeness of a great city, they form chance acquaintances here and there, thoughtlessly marry and soon find that the husband's income cannot alone support a family; then comes a struggle which generally results in the wife's turning laundress, but often results in desertion or voluntary separation.

The great number of widows is noticeable. The conditions of life for men are much harder than for women and they have consequently a much higher death rate. Unacknowledged desertion and separation also increases this total. Then, too, a large number of these widows are simply unmarried mothers and thus represent the unchastity of a large number of women.3

The result of this large number of homes without husbands is to increase the burden of charity and benevolence, and also on account of their poor home life to increase crime. Here is a wide field for social regeneration.

Separating the sexes by age periods according to conjugal condition we have these tables:

MALES.

Conjugal Condition. 15-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70 and
over
Unk.
Age
Single

250

783

298

90

23

6

2

20

Married

2

474

681

396

212

79

17

15

Widowed  

7

43

53

42

30

21

4

Separated  

3

9

5

1

     

 

FEMALES.

Conjugal Condition. 15-19 20-29 30-39 40-49 50-59 60-69 70 and
over
Unk.
Age
Single

337

559

222

68

32

9

3

10

Married

35

754

633

326

110

34

4

22

Widowed  

47

192

217

179

111

88

9

Separated  

23

22

12

5

1

1

2

 

When we remember that in slavery-time slaves usually began to cohabit at an early age, these figures indicate the sudden and somewhat disastrous application of the preventive check to population through the economic stress of life in large cities. Negro girls no longer marry in their 'teens as their mothers and grandmothers did. Of those in the twenties over 40 per cent are still unmarried, and of those in the thirties 21 per cent. So sudden a chauge in marriage customs means grave dangers, as shown by the fact that forty-five of the married couples under forty were permanently separated and 239 women were widowed.

If we reduce the general conjugal condition to per cents, we have this table:

MEN.

Conjugal Condition.

15-40

40-60

Over 60

   

%

 

%

 

%

Single

1,333

52.2

113

13.7

8

5.1

Married

1,157

45.3

608

73.9

96

62.0

Widowed

50

2.5

95

12.4

51

32.9

Separated

12

 

6

     

Total

2,552

100

822

100

155

100

 

Here it is plain that although a large per cent of men under forty marry there is nevertheless a number who wait until they are settled in life and have a competence. With the mass of Negroes, however, the waiting past the fortieth year means simply increased caution about marriage; or, if they are widowers, about remarriage. Consequently while, for instance, in Germany 84.8 per cent of the men from forty to sixty are married, among the Negroes of this ward less than 74 per cent are married. At the same time there are indications of a large number of broken marriage ties. Of the men under forty the bulk marry late, that is in the thirties:

Conjugal Condition. 20-29 30-39

Single

61.8%

29%

Married

37.4

66

Widowed

.8

5

Separated

Total

100%

100%

 

Turning now to the women, we have a table in which

 

Conjugal
Condition.
15-40 40-60 Over 60
Number. Per Cent. Number. Per Cent. Number. Per Cent.

Single

1,118

39.6

100

10.5

12

4.9

Married

1,422

50.3

436

46.0

38

15.0

Widowed

239

{10.1

396

{43.5

199

{80.1

Separated

45

17

2

Total

2,824

100

949

100

251

100

 

the noticeable feature is the extraordinary number of widowed and separated persons, indicating economic stress, a high death rate and lax morality. Such are the social results of a large excess of young women in a city where young men cannot afford to marry. Of the women below forty, we have this tabulation:

 

Conjugal Condition. 15-19. 20-29. 30-39.

Single

90.6%

40.4%

20.8

Married

9.4

54.5

59.2

Widowed

}.0

5.1

20.0

Separated

 

The comparatively large number of separations is here to be noticed, and the fact that over a fifth of the women between thirty and forty are unmarried and 40 per cent are without husbands.

From all these statistics, making some allowance for the small number of persons counted and the peculiar conditions of the ward, we may conclude:

1. That a tendency to much later marriage than under the slave system is revolutionizing the Negro family and incidentally leading to much irregularity.

2. There is nevertheless still the temptation for young men and women under forty to enter into matrimony before their economic condition warrants it.

3. Among persons over forty there is a marked tendency to single life.

4. The very large number of the widowed and separated points to grave physical, economic and moral disorder.

16. The City.--The census of 1890 showed that the conjugal condition of Negroes in the city was as follows:

Conjugal Condition. Males over 15 Females over 15
Number. Per Cent. Number. Per Cent.

Single

6,047

44.0

6,267

37.8

Married

7,042

51.3

7,154

42.5

Widowed

603

4.4

3,078

8.6

Divorced

15

.3

35

1.1

Total

13,707

100

16,534

100

 

Similar statistics for native whites with native parents for the city, are:

 

Conjugal Condition. Males
over 15.
Females
over 15.

Single

43.2%

38.0 %

Married

52.0

49.0

Widowed

4.5

13.7

Divorced

.3

.3

Total

100%

100%

 

These figures, although six years earlier, for the most part confirm the statistics of the Seventh Ward, except in the statistics of separation. In this respect the returns for the Seventh Ward are probably more reliable, as the census counted only actually divorced persons. The largest discrepancy is in the percentage of single females; this probably comes from the fact that outside the Seventh Ward the single servant girls form a large part of the Negro population. On the whole it is noticeable that the conjugal condition of the Negroes approaches so nearly that of the whites, when the economic and social history of the two groups has been so strikingly different.

These statistics are the best measurements of the condition and tendencies of the Negro home which we have, and although they are crude and difficult in some cases rightly to interpret, yet they shed much light on the problem. First it must be remembered that the Negro home and the stable marriage state is for the mass of the colored people of the country and for a large per cent of those of Philadelphia, a new social institution. The strictly guarded savage home life of Africa, which with all its shortcomings protected womanhood, was broken up completely by the slave ship, and the promiscuous herding of the West Indian plantation put in its stead. From this evolved the Virginia plantation where the double row of little slave cabins were but parts of a communistic paternalism centring in the Big House which was the real centre of the family life. Even in Pennsylvania where the plantation system never was developed the slave family was dependent in morals as well as work upon the master. With emancipation the Negro family was first made independent and with the migration to cities we see for the first time the thoroughly independent Negro family. On the whole it is a more successful institution than we had a right to expect, even though the Negro has had a couple of centuries of contact with some phases of the monogamic ideal.4 The great weakness of the Negro family is still lack of respect for the marriage bond, inconsiderate entrance into it, and bad household economy and family government. Sexual looseuess then arises as a secondary consequence, bringing adultery and prostitution in its train. And these results come largely from the postponement of marriage among the young. Such are the fruits of sudden social revolution.5

ENDNOTES:

1 There are many sources of error in these returns: it was found that widows usually at first answered the question " Are you married ? " in the negative, and the truth had to be ascertained by a second question; unfortunate women and questionable characters generally reported themselves as married; divorced or separated persons ealled themselves widowed. Such of these errors as were made through misapprehension were often corrected by additional questions; in case of designed deception the answer was naturally thrown out if the deception was detected, which of course happened in few cases. The net result of these errors is difficult to ascertain: certainly they increase the apparent number of the truly widowed to some extent at the expense of the single and married.

2 The number of actually divorced persons among the Negroes is naturally insignificant; on the other hand the permanent separations are large in number and an attempt has been made to count them. They do not exactly correspond to the divorce column of ordinary statistics and therefore take something from the married column. The number of widowed is probably exaggerated somewhat, but even allowing for errors, the true figure is high. The markedly higher death rate for males has much to do with this. Cf. Chapter X.

3 Unfortunately Philadelphia has no reliable registration of births, and the illegitimate birth rate of Negroes cannot be ascertained. Ths is probably high judging from other conditions.

4 And, to tell the truth, contact with some very unsavory phases of it.

5 There can be no doubt but what sexual looseness is to-day the prevailing sin of the mass of the Negro population, and that its prevalence can be traced to bad home life in most cases. Children are allowed on the street night and day unattended; loose talk is often indulged in; the sin is seldom if ever denounced in the churches. The same freedom is allowed the poorly trained colored girl as the white girl who has come through a strict home, and the result is that the colored girl more often falls. Nothing but strict home life can avail in such cases. Of course there is much to be said in palliation: the Negress is not respected by men as white girls are, and consequeutly has no such general social protection; as a servant, maid, etc., she has peculiar temptations; especially the whole tendency of the situation of the Negro is to kill his self-respect which is tbe greatest safeguard of female chastity.

From W.E.B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro. New York: Lippincott, 1899, Chapter VI, pp. 66-72.


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