Henry Sheffer - Unhappy College Professor

Henry Sheffer's difficult marriage to Adele Blonden is described in the article "Tenacious Ties of the Unhappy College Professor", San Antonio Light (San Antonio Texas) (16 February 1947), 14, by Irving Johnson. We give a version below.

Tenacious Ties of the Unhappy College Professor, by Irving Johnson.

Harvard Professor Henry Sheffer, who didn't want to be married, has learnt that matrimony is more permanent than he had been led to believe.

In 1928, the professor left his author-wife, Adele Blonden Sheffer, according to the divorce suit she filed. Fourteen years later they landed in court for the first time and since then have been parties to two divorce actions and one divorce.

Today they're still unhappily married and likely to stay that way.

What Professor Sheffer learned in court is that women not only change their own minds whenever the spirit moves them - sometimes they have a faculty of changing yours for you.

That's precisely how his unwanted marital state was preserved. In 1942, Mrs Sheffer actually got a divorce and changed her mind about it 12 days before it was final. Then, when the professor sought one himself, she managed - with the help of her lawyer - to change his mind for him.

In the years leading up to his departure from home in 1928 the 61-year-old educator said Adele, now 50, treated him badly many times. One charge recalled the play, Young Woodley, in which a professor's wife fell in love with a student.

Adele, author of Red Dawn [Note: published in 1928 under the name Adele Blonden] and other works [e.g. Ideal girl (1923)] became friendly, he said, with a Harvard student and continued to be seen with him regardless of the professor's objections.

In 1921, he went on, she decided on a movie career and went to Hollywood against the advice of experts.

Other times, he declared, she embarrassed him by going to New York and other places for six to eight months without letting him know what she was doing.

Notwithstanding these reputed indignities, the professor did nothing about dissolving the marriage. He merely left home and awaited developments.

They were 14 long years coming.

Finally, Mrs Sheffer sued for divorce on ground of desertion. That was alright with the professor who presides over philosophy classes at Harvard and Radcliffe.

Only Mrs Sheffer, who advises young women in love to keep their men guessing, apparently did just that to the professor.

She got a divorce and $4,500 alimony, which was paid off at $87.50 a month. Months later, she changed her mind and said she wanted to stay married - and this time the professor protested so noisily he had to be silenced in court.

Adele said she never really wanted a divorce and was willing to "Do everything to make him care for me." "I want my husband," she testified, "and no money can buy him. He may not be a good-looking man, but he's been very good to me."

The professor, remembering the past, bounced to his feet with an angry cry when she said they had never had an argument till he left her in 1928. He was silenced by the gavel.

The judge ruled she would have to go through with the divorce, but on appeal the Massachusetts Supreme Court reversed the lower court.

That decision left the Sheffers still married though parted and led the professor to take a new course. He filed for divorce himself, calling Adele cruel and abusive.

The second divorce came to trial quickly - and ended as quickly when the professor failed to return to court after a prodding crossfire of questions by his wife's lawyer.

When he failed to answer the gavel for his second day in court, with his illness given as the reason, the case was marked suspended and the Sheffers remained married.

It then became the professor's turn to change his mind. His attorney asked the court's permission to drop the law suit.

Two months later Mrs Sheffer, who had moved to Worcester, Massachusetts, petitioned the probate court there for separate support. When the case came to trial recently Adele told the court Sheffer had been giving her about $200 a month "right along." She said he left the money "in an envelope in a box." She wouldn't tell where the box had been, however. "I don't want the lawyers to know," she said. "I don't want them breaking up our marriage."

She added that besides the money from Sheffer she had been receiving money from anonymous donors. "I have every reason to believe they are the wives of Harvard professors," she told the court.

She had been meeting the professor secretly, according to her testimony. The last meeting had taken place a month before, she said, but she refused to give the location of the trysting place. "I don't want the lawyers to find out," she said.

"We've always had to meet on the Q.T.," she answered when the judge questioned her. "My husband's family are always against me. He hates me publicly but loves me privately."

Speaking of an agreement she supposedly had made in 1942, she testified she hadn't known what the agreement was. The paper she signed was only a blank sheet, she said, and added, "I signed more blank papers with my attorneys."

The court ruled that Professor Sheffer pay her $100, and then make regular payments of $35 a week. His attorneys appealed the case to the Massachusetts Supreme Court.

Last Updated July 2020