The “Heart Balm Racket” was the ultimate gold-digger scheme. Here is the classic version as it was developed over time by its female practitioners (with the assistance of male lawyers who were in on the deal):
Step 1: Target a man of means;
Step 2: Flirt with him and get him to propose marriage, in writing, ideally in at least three courtroom-ready love letters;
Step 3: Become an impossible, flighty, ill-tempered, and thus no-longer attractive prospective bride, resulting in a change of mind on the part of the prospective groom;
Step. 4: Feign sorrow and suffering and sue his butt off for breach of promise.
The year 1911 seems to have been a hot one in the history of “patriarchal oppression,” as evidenced by the following exposé, combined with the infamous “alimony unlimited” ruling of Chicago Judge Bonygne and reports on the financial woes of suffering alimony princesses Ethel Stuart Elliott of New York and Mrs. Trude of Chicago (see: “Alimony Princesses of 1911“).
The following is one of several installments that will appear on A Voice for Men exposing the long and forgotten history of this species of gold-digging denominated: “Heart Balm Racket.” Already published is the story of ardent anti-misandrist Roberta West Nicholson’s heroic, and successful, efforts starting in 1935 to stamp out the racket throughout the nation, starting with her home state of Missouri in her capacity as state legislator:
HEADLINE: Rising Market in Balm for Jilted Girls; $10,000 Current Quotation for the Week
By Nixola Greeley-Smith
─ Only Moral From Week’s Crop of Breach of Promise Cases Is That Now Is a Good Time to Sue.
─ Man’s Income Suggested as a Fair Basis of Settlement, the Same as Prevails in Fixing Alimony.
─ Court Interjects Sordid Questions of Actual Damage Sustained in Wardrobe Preparations, Wedding Cake, Etc.
─ But What Have These Considerations to Do With the Injuries to a Seared Soul and a Wounded Heart?
─ Financial Remuneration Logical to the Type of Woman That Considers Marriage in Itself a Goal.
What is the value of a woman’s heart? What balm may be applied to the wounded feelings tender soul who discovers suddenly that she is not as much engaged as she thought she was?
Ten thousand dollars is the current market quotation on heart balm, as disclosed by two verdicts for that amount rendered by sympathetic juries in New York this week.
In the first case, that of Henrietta French, a South Dakota girl, who sued David H. Decker jr., a civil engineer of this city, for breach of promise of marriage, Justice Erlanger announced that he would entertain a motion to set the verdict aside as excessive. But when we consider that the young woman, who must possess at least normal intelligence, had to receive and answer letters beginning “My ownty donty darlingest, sweet honey bunchums,” we may not agree with the view of the learned court.
The other blighted young woman is Miss Fanny Libenau, to whom a jury in the City Court awarded $100,000 for injuries to her affections inflicted by Joseph Krauss.
~ Is Interesting Problem. ~
But the problem involved in these suits is a most interesting one.
Undoubtedly the strictly logical aspect of the breach of promise suit was presented by Justice Erlanger in the French-Decker case.
“Not a dollar of damage has been shown, except that naturally arising from the alleged breach. Not a dollar on wardrobe, wedding preparations, or anything else.”
But what have the sordid questions of wardrobe, preparations, etc., to do with a broken heart?
How may the damages to a seared soul be assessed? The average woman, of course, does not feel broken engagement so poignantly that she seeks or even thinks of financial balm. But the logic of the breach of promise suit is irresistible. To a certain too frequent type of female, marriage in itself is a goal, an achievement irrespective of the individuality or personality of the husband. The conjugal state seems to be essentially more honorable and dignified than spinsterhood. Once having the goal in sight she does not forego it without a death struggle. From being assured of an easy livelihood, earned by some one else, she faces the prospect of a future of struggle and perhaps self-support. What is more natural for her than to seek to capitalize love’s wounds.
~ Should Jury Fix Damages? ~
After all, marriage as it is viewed at present by the majority of persons has as its basis the financial dependence of woman. A deserted wife asks and receives financial balm in the shape of alimony. Why should not a deserted fiancee have similar redress if she chooses to avail herself of it? For those who take the view that women should be supported by men, the justice of the breach of promise suit seems inevitable.
But should the extent of the damage be left to a susceptible jury to fix? Damages based on wardrobe purchased or wedding cake ordered are not adequate or reasonable. One can wear the clothes and eat the cake even though the faithless bridegroom should disappear.
But what can one do with a broken heart except ask for balm for it? It seems to me that a fair basis of settlement would be the man’s income. That is what fixes the amount of alimony.
One of the verdicts of $10,000 rendered this week was against a painter and decorator who has nothing but his trade by which to live. Yet he is mulcted for an amount that he cannot possibly pay, and a young man of some wealth, the defendant in the French case, gets off with damages for the same amount.
A man would spite his heavenly bliss
And all his worldly worth for this;
To waste his ailing heart in one kiss
Upon her perfect lips,
is the poetic as opposed to the legal view of what a woman’s love is worth.
But perhaps if the highly respected British poet who wrote that glowing estimate had ever been sued for breach of promise he would have become as practical and matter-of-fact as Justice Erlanger.
Perhaps, after all, the only moral to be deduced from the week’s crop of breach of promise cases is this now is a good time to sue.
[Source: Nicola Greeley-Smith, “Rising Market in Balm for Jilted Girls; $10,000 Current Quotation for the Week,” The World ( New York, N.Y.), Mar. 4, 1911, p. 3]