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An Unfit Mother?

In October 1950, an Oklahoma judge had ruled that a woman called Jean Fields was an 'Unfit person' to have custody of her two children whom she alone had brought up and supported for ten years

In May 1940, Mrs Fields had been deserted by her husband, Vernon Fields who left a farewell note saying : 'I no longer want the responsibility of a wife and two children, so here it is your lap. Sorry but thats the way it is'. The older child was then three years old, the baby three weeks. Mrs Fields obtained a divorce and was awarded full custody of her two children. Her husband soon landed in jail on a forgery charge. This was the last she head of him for the next ten years. Mrs Fields and her children moved to California

In the Spring of 1950, the children, now thirteen and ten years of age, went to visit their parental grandparents in Oklahoma. It was arranged that they should spend the Summer there and return to Califronia in the Autumn in time for scholl opening. In September Mrs Field received a notification to the effect that her former husband had started legal proceeding for custody of the children on the grounds that she was not a fit mother. Her unfitness was based on a letter which she had addressed to her son Jay, in reply to his question as to what the Korean war was all about. Mrs Field had written that the United States government was waging a war of intervention, adding 'but do not blame the American soldier. He didn't choose the war - he was sent : he doesn't even know why he is there for sure.'

In the course of tangled legal proceedings, which led back and forth from Oklahmoma to California, both Mrs Fields and her children were temporarily committed to prison. The children, following the first court hearing had implored their mother to take them home - they did not even know their father! Contrary to court orders Mrs Fields finally broke down and took her children home.

A hearing in California, a few months later, confirmed the original Oklahoma ruling : custody was awarded the father, a decree which has since been made permenant. The ruling was given on the basis that Mrs Field was an 'unfit mother' because of her critical attitude to the Korean war, her uncritical attitude to Negroes, her advocacy of peace. The childrens grandparents had submitted affidavits one of which stated in part : 'Jay (the thirteen year old boy) spoke very critically of the laws of Oklahoma regarding the segregation of white and coloured persons...on one occasion he stated that some of his best friends at school were coloured boys'. Elsewhere, one of the affidavits read : 'When a twelve year old boy...chooses coloured boys for associates and companions it is not conducive of wholesome living...'. The fathers attorney told the judge : 'I assert to your honour that what this lady has taught her children is traitorous. I assert that your homour will not permit such a thing to continue in this country...the time has come to consider loyalty oaths as a condition for parenthood'. The judge agreed.

Mrs Field appealed to the judge for one small favour. 'I have cared for and supported these children', she said ,'for ten years all by myself. I have gone without food for their sake. Can I have them now alone for ten minutes?'. 'I am sorry Mrs Field', replied the judge. 'You had your day in court'.

From I was American By Ursula Wasserman 1955

Cameron Green
Last Updated - Fri, 30 Jan 2015 07:04:33 -0600