Cincinnati’s Violet Honeymooners and Their Scarlet Divorce

A very public divorce case aired salacious-for-its-time dirty laundry in the early 1900s.

The 1903 wedding of Augustine “Gussie” Ogden and Ernest Drewitz was unusual to begin with. It was a private affair, performed by a minister who signed the marriage certificate with a name (A.M. Hawnot) that appears on no other documents anywhere, ever.

Cincinnati’s “Violet Couple” were lampooned by St. Louis Post-Dispatch cartoonist Paul Berdanier in this May 1908 caricature as they battled in divorce court for the third time.

Image extracted from microfilm by Greg Hand

The honeymoon fascinated the public. Mrs. Ogden was a rich and handsome widow, among the wealthiest women in Cincinnati, conservatively inheriting $400,000 from her departed first husband. She celebrated her second marriage by hiring a private railway car for the trip to Florida. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer [July 2, 1909]:

“The car was lavishly furnished and was ornamented throughout with violets, the couple becoming known as the ‘Violet Honeymooners’ and their car as the ‘Violet Car.’”

Gossips chattered not only because of the provocative and decadent décor, but because of the couple’s precipitous courtship. The marriage was solemnized barely six weeks after Mrs. Ogden had been introduced to Mr. Drewitz.

They met in a Fourth Street music store where Mr. Drewitz was employed selling player pianos. Born in Germany, he arrived in the U.S. as an ordained Lutheran pastor, assigned to a small congregation in Wisconsin. He was called to Washington, D.C. on a prestigious assignment as pastor of the Lutheran Church of the German Embassy. In this role, he and his wife became friends with President Grover Cleveland and the First Lady. Drewitz’s wife died, and he resigned his post at the embassy to lead a congregation in Newport, Kentucky. That congregation disbanded, and he found himself in the music business.

Mrs. Ogden was born in Alsace-Lorraine as Augustine Debeneth. Her family came to Cincinnati in 1876, when she was 13 years old. Her father died soon after, and Augustine and her sisters took in sewing and taught French to make ends meet. When she was 17 years old, Augustine was introduced to wealthy real estate magnate Frank Ogden at Lewis Graeser’s dancing school. Mr. Ogden invested wisely and owned some very lucrative addresses. Augustine and Frank married in 1889 and had a brief but happy marriage before he died in 1901. In her grief, Mrs. Ogden donated a stained glass window to the Mercantile Library in Frank’s memory. (That window and a companion have disappeared under mysterious circumstances.)

Mr. Drewitz was around 50 years old and Mrs. Ogden 40 when wedding bells rang for the second time. According to repeated testimony, bliss drained out of the marriage even before they returned from their violet Florida honeymoon. The issue was money, although Mr. Drewitz kept trying to introduce saucier grounds. Among his complaints, Gussie continued to introduce herself as Mrs. Ogden instead of Mrs. Drewitz.

Although he testified repeatedly that he had no idea his fiancée had any money, it was revealed that Drewitz had signed a pre-nuptial agreement prohibiting any claim on his wife’s estate and then attempted to have that pre-nup voided. He continually begged for money, raging around the house banging on the furniture and throwing things when she refused. She filed for divorce just before their second anniversary. They patched things up, and she withdrew her suit, only to refile it a few months later. Another reconciliation quashed the second suit, and the Drewitzes endured a truce for four years by living apart.

Without any hint of irony, Mrs. Ogden bought Mr. Drewitz a farm in Loveland. He remained there all week, visiting her Richmond Street mansion only on weekends, under cover of night to, as he testified, “maintain their marital relations.” His appeals for money continued. He wanted to import goats from Switzerland. One day, Mr. Drewitz went too far. According to The Cincinnati Post [April 7, 1909]:

“She advanced him money for a farm, she says, which he bought in his own name, and instead of securing the loans made by her he gave a mortgage on it and she was compelled to pay the notes when they fell due.”

Mrs. Ogden filed for divorce a third time in 1909. Mr. Drewitz countersued and fabricated enough salacious charges to keep Cincinnati’s chinwags busy for months. Apparently on the basis of a single book on Indian occultism in her library, Drewitz charged that Mrs. Ogden was a devotee of a Chicago mystic named Lauron William De Laurence and was in thrall to him while studying the mystic arts.

It came out in court that Drewitz had spent years paying spies and snitches in an attempt to build a case that Mrs. Ogden was a working prostitute at the time she married Frank Ogden. There may be something to that. It’s known that Frank Ogden paid Gussie’s rent for 10 years prior to their marriage. Drewitz offered a reward for nude photographs of her, though none were ever found.

Mr. Drewitz claimed that Mrs. Ogden would leave town without notice and never gave him a key to her house, so that he had to hurry home before 10 p.m. when the servants locked up or be barred from his own residence. He claimed that she objected to his friends calling on the telephone because the telephone belonged to the Ogden estate and was not a Drewitz instrument.

Despite airing all the dirty laundry, Judge John A. Caldwell refused to grant a divorce, ruling:

“The contracting parties to this controversy were not young and inexperienced people, who might not realize the sacredness of the obligation they had entered into. They were both mature and had experience, and were of sound mind and understanding.”

Undeterred, Mrs. Ogden filed suit again a year later and was granted a divorce by Judge Almon M. Warner, who denied Drewitz’s request for alimony, calling his slanderous attacks on Mrs. Ogden despicable.

As for the victorious Mrs. Ogden, she spent the remainder of her life supporting feminist causes, encouraging women to vote and run for office, and lobbying for streamlined divorce laws. She wrote a couple of novels and produced several silent movies that, based on the reviews, are mercifully forgotten these days. She died in 1945.

Mr. Drewitz moved to Chicago and got into real estate sales. He died in 1936.

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