• U.S.

National Affairs: Domestic Issue

3 minute read

When the Democratic Convention nominated Adlai Stevenson for President, it gave him another position: he became the most eligible unmarried man in the U.S. That status will not ease the nominee’s burden from here to November. Almost every time he is seen in public with a woman, or a feminine acquaintance mentions his name with what her listeners consider a special inflection, tongues will wag and columnists’ typewriters will clatter.

Last week, even before he was nominated, at least four women were being mentioned as prospective Stevenson brides. All four rumors were wrong. The fact is that Stevenson has no intention of remarrying.

“Incompatibility.” Adlai Stevenson married Ellen Borden, one of Chicago’s most attractive debutantes, on Dec. 1, 1928. They have three sons, Adlai III, 21 (recently enlisted in the Marines); Borden, 20; and John Fell, 16. In 1949, less than a year after Stevenson became governor of Illinois, his wife sued for divorce. The unhappy governor told reporters: “Although I don’t believe in divorce, I will not contest it … Due to the incompatibility of our lives, Mrs. Stevenson feels a separation is necessary.”

Now, some of Stevenson’s friends are concerned about what his ex-wife might say and do during the presidential campaign. He does not share this concern; it was not a factor in his reluctance to run.

Last month, Mrs. Stevenson announced that she would vote Republican, no matter whom the Democrats selected. Said she: “I feel another four years of Democratic Administration would ruin the country.” But last week she penned a carefully worded note: “Dear Adlai, Congratulations to the Democratic Party for choosing the finest available Democrat … All good wishes to you personally.” She handed it to a family friend who carried it just four doors up Chicago’s Astor Street from her home to the Blair house, where the governor had established his waiting headquarters. After he read the note, a happy Stevenson scribbled a reply on the envelope and sent it back to her. “That’s grand,” he wrote. “Many thanks.”

A Sensitive Test. As the first divorced presidential nominee (of a major party) in U.S. history, Stevenson will face an issue never raised before. Last May, Pollster George Gallup took a reading on the question. Results: 81% of those interviewed said they would vote for a qualified candidate for President even if he were divorced; 14% said they would not. (At the same time, another Gallup poll showed that 70% said they would vote for a military man; 25% said they would not.)

Some support for Mr. Gallup’s finding appeared last week in Chicago among politicians who could be considered highly sensitive to the divorce issue. At a caucus of the Massachusetts delegation, predominantly Roman Catholic, one delegate brought up the divorce question. Another said Stevenson couldn’t be blamed for the divorce, because his wife divorced him. Said the delegate: “Hell, half of our wives would divorce us if they could.” A roar of laughter swept the caucus room. On the third ballot, Massachusetts cast 25 of its 36 votes for divorced Adlai Stevenson.

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