The Affair That Split New York High Society

In “Strong Passions,” the historian Barbara Weisberg tells the story of an explosive, lurid 1860s case that still resonates today.


The Scandalous Divorce of Strong v. Strong

In 1860s New York, a scandalous divorce case called Strong v. Strong captivated the nation. This case pitted two socially prominent families against each other and exposed a passionate and forbidden romance that led to the destruction of a marriage and the ruin of a woman's reputation. The details of the trial were so salacious that they filled the pages of newspapers across the country.

Barbara Weisberg's book, 'Strong Passions,' reconstructs this scandal with a balanced and respectful approach. She delves into the case's sharp edges, which include allegations of child abduction, forced abortion, manslaughter, rape, and adultery countersuits. These revelations provide a glimpse into the behavior of 19th-century men and women, challenging the decorum often portrayed in fiction. Weisberg's contextualization humanizes the characters involved and allows readers to feel a connection with them, despite their flaws.

Mary Emeline Stevens Strong: A Woman Caught in a Scandal

Mary Emeline Stevens Strong was a mother of two and the wife of Peter Remsen Strong, a man known for his lack of work ethic. Mary came from a wealthy and cultured background, with her father being a prominent bank president. However, her marriage was far from ideal.

Living with her husband's family in a sprawling country estate, Mary's health suffered due to multiple pregnancies and miscarriages. Feeling neglected by her husband, she found solace in the arms of Edward Strong, one of her husband's younger brothers. Their innocent friendship eventually turned into a passionate affair.

A Marriage Unraveled and a Scandal Exposed

Despite the growing intimacy between Mary and Edward, Peter Strong remained oblivious to their relationship. In fact, everyone else in the household, including Peter's blind mother, noticed the closeness between the two. Mary and Edward's interactions became increasingly daring, with allegations of trysts in the governess's bedroom and Mary sneaking out of Edward's room.

It wasn't until 1862, after the death of their infant daughter, that Mary confessed her infidelity to Peter. Shocked and horrified, Peter distanced himself from his wife, sharing the same roof but never the same bed. Divorce was unthinkable in high society during that time, but Peter eventually filed for it in 1864. The scandalous details of the Strong v. Strong case exposed the strict social and legal restrictions placed on women's rights and control over their bodies.