by Paul R. Spitzzeri
After a rapid courtship, the marriage of well-known poet, journalist and writer Yda Addis and Santa Barbara lawyer and politician Charles Storke rapidly devolved and dissolved into mutual acrimony and a bitter protracted divorce. In Los Angeles, the news was published in local papers in early August 1891 with the Express reporting that “Yda Addis, one of the young literary ladies of Southern California, who married a short while ago to a man named Storke in Santa Barbara, is now suing for a divorce on the grounds of cruelty.”
The paper added that she left the coastal mission city and was in Los Angeles “at the residence of Don Antonio F. Coronel, whither she has flown for refuge.” Coronel, who came to the city in 1834 with the Hijar-Padres Colony, was a prominent local official and, in the early 1870s, state treasurer, and his adobe house in the southern part of the city was widely known for his collection of early artifacts and papers.
The Express referred to Yda’s career, including the controversy over the Harper’s Monthly Magazine article that led to a dispute with one of the publication’s editors, Charles Dudley Warner. It was related that, even as she sought apologies while he was in Los Angeles, “whether [she] received any satisfaction . . . has not, so far as is known, been made public.” It concluded by observing that “shortly after she married the man Storke, and then it seems her real trouble in life began.”
In its shorter article, the Los Angeles Times wrote that “all old residents of Los Angeles will remember Yda Addis, who for a number of years made this city her home.” Like its competitor, however, the paper’s memory was faulty as to her year of graduation as part of the first class at Los Angeles High School, that being 1875, not 1876. It noted that she turned to literature as her vocation, though she taught school for about seven years, but that she “gained considerable reputation from her letters from Mexico.”
The Times did not, however, refer to the dispute with Warner, nor, along with the Express, was anything said about the purported engagement and breach of promise matter with former governor and Los Angeles capitalist John G. Downey. The paper also stated that she married Storke “about two years ago,” though it was actually less than a year. It added that “it will be news to the many friends of the lady to know that she has instituted suit for divorce” and that she was at the Coronel home “for refuge.”
The paper, though, sent a reporter to the residence and had an interview with Addis, who “has changed very much in the past few months, and looks at least ten years older than she did a year ago.” She appeared to be “broken in health” and “looks a complete physical wreck.” She stated that she preferred to not discuss her private life, but, “as everything would come out in the trial,” Yda agreed to speak to the Times.
She said her marital troubles occurred at the end of September, just three weeks after she was married and while she and Storke were in San Francisco. They were staying at the prestigious Lick House hotel when “he used violent and abusive language to her and made threatening gestures.”
There was no physical abuse, but she continued, “from that time on her life was made miserable by constant abuse and ill treatment,” though she then followed by claiming that Storke, “on one occasion while she was very ill, he threw her down on the floor and shook her violently.”
Sounding a theme from past personal problems, Yda then told the Times that she was being seen by a doctor and that “her condition was such that life was almost despaired of.” She added that Storke’s fourteen-year old son, Thomas, “was very insolent” and used “undue familiarities which she expressly forbade.” The paper said she went into great detail about her trials, insisting that she thought “of winning him from his evil ways.”
When she left, because of her fail health, she continued, Storke refused to give her money or pay what she loaned him and “circulated reports that she was insane.” He took her to San Francisco, but, again, she was virtually without funds and, on returning to Santa Barbara with “the promise of her husband that he would do better,” she found that there was no change.
She averred that Storke “threatened to have her locked up as a dangerous woman” and she was so afraid that she immediately took a train for Los Angeles, relying on a stranger to pay her fare, and went directly to Coronel’s home. She ended by saying she did not know what she would do, as she was penniless, but “if her friends stood by her she could come out all right.”
On the 10th, the Express reported that Storke was striking back by sending letters to an unnamed newspaper “which seek to show him as not being wrong.” Charles insisted that “Yda is leaning to insanity and has an insane antipathy to his son, Tom” and demanding that the young man be removed from the home before she would return.
Worse, Storke stated, “she has attempted several time to commit suicide, and that she is not at all a safe woman.” It added that she claimed she gave Storke $300 during their nine months together, but he gave her no financial support. For his part, Storke filed a cross-complaint asking for the appointment of a guardian to be responsible for her.
Yda fired back the following day with a letter to the Santa Barbara Press reprinted in the Los Angeles Herald on the 14th. In it, she wrote “I understand that the city of Santa Barbara is full of reports of alleged murderous threats, assaults, etc., on my part” and asked that the public withhold judgment until court proceedings could bring out witness testimony that would “disprove these false and malicious allegations.”
She reminded the Press “of the charges clearly proven against Mr. Storke in a previous suit of divorce” and added that, if she was insane,
was it not the duty of my husband, in such case, to provide for me proper asylum and maintenance, instead of turning me out of doors, accused of insanity, and indisputably in a distressing physical condition, refusing to pay my board, to release my wardrobe from detention, to give, or even to repay the pitiful sum requisite to bring me to friends in Los Angeles, who would care for me?
She concluded by declaiming “in these days even insanity is not regarded as an offense so monstrous as to put the afflicted one beyond the right to enjoy the protection of shelter, clothing and food.”
The Santa Barbara Independent covered the first hearing in the divorce suit, held on the 12th, at which it was decreed that Storke pay Addis alimony of $50 per month and $50 for incurred legal expenses. Storke, however, immediately appealed to the state Supreme Court and the lower court, intending that she receive the legal expenses amount and a total alimony to date of $350, issued a new order that, within a week, Storke pay Yda $350 “to enable her to prosecute said action” before the high court.
A little over a week later, the Times published another interview with Addis, observing that she “has been seriously ill for several days past, from the effects of the terrible strain imposed upon her” by the divorce suit,” but that, weak as she was, she had the strength to talk to the paper. In it, she asserted that he showed her a copy of a letter he wrote “in which he offered to furnish her with money sufficient for her immediate necessities” although he had not done so.
This, she said, was despite friends of hers contact him as to the dire situation she was in, including being “dangerously ill” and she added that a letter from her to him was “mutilated,” a word she used about her Harper’s article dispute with Warner and that key components were removed so as to “change the tenor of the contents entirely..”
Finally, she averred that Storke “has a knack of denouncing everyone with whom he has trouble as a lunatic,” while giving names of persons to whom he was allegedly in debt. Her parting shot was to provide more names of those “who regarded Storke himself as insane,” including a state senator “and a number of physicians.”
The divorce question passed for a time, though in mid-October, the Express reported that Yda “was followed from the postoffice [sic] this morning” to a boarding house “by a man whom she does not know, and whose manner and actions excited her suspicions.” The landlady came out to ask the man his business and he said he was looking for a “Miss Friend.” Yda’s view was that “the man had some evil intention” and it was added that “he wore ill-fitting black clothes, and had a conspicuously black mustache.” Later, her own appearance would be discussed in the press.
Despite the much-publicized spat between the Storkes, Yda was still in the good graces of much of Los Angeles society and this was demonstrated by her participation in late November at two Los Angeles women’s events. One was a luncheon for the Woman’s Exchange Association honoring Juana Neal, one of the few women to own a large amount of property in the city, including a theater building discussed here before. Aside from Neal and Addis, luminaries included Caroline Severance, a major female figure in the city,
The other, held a few days prior, was the regular meeting of the prominent and influential Friday Morning Club, headed by Severance and composed of many of the female elite in the Angel City. Severance told the assemblage that Yda was basically there as a “proxy of our illustrious vice-president (Mrs. Jessie Benton Frémont) who so seldom is able to appear among us.” Frémont, daughter of the powerful Missouri Senator Thomas H. Benton and widow of the explorer, controversial military officer, and 1856 Republican Party presidential candidate John C. Frémont, was then living in Los Angeles.
Frémont’s daughter, Elizabeth, however, was in attendance and “especially requests that Mrs. Storke be presented with a bunch of white violets, as a token of remembrance and regard.” Yda “spoke extemporaneously for about half and hour on the “Women of Old Mexico.”
At the end of December, the divorce case returned to the news as Addis filed a new petition for the money due her by the August court decree. It noted that, as the case was set for trial on 4 January, but that she lacked money to not only support herself, but to pay her attorneys, obtain depositions, and procuring witnesses, while she incurred debts for legal matters, she was requesting $250 from Charles from which to pay her expenses.
Storke’s strategy was clear—in the face of judicial decisions against him at the superior court, he would pursue any means to delay or defeat these, including filing appeals at the state supreme court level. Yda, however, was determined to continue the fight, however, and the bitterness and rancor continued for several more years. More on that next time.