Dial “M” for “Monogamy”: A Southwestern Belle Tolls for Thee, Mayor

 On April 6, 1890 the Fort Worth Gazette said that with the recent election of progressive candidate William S. Pendleton as mayor, Fort Worth should build a fine new city hall:

Fort Worth would get its fine new city hall in 1893.

But Mayor William S. Pendleton would not be around to occupy it. Hizzoner was a little too progressive. On October 5, 1890, just six months after his election, the Gazette would report that Mrs. Mayor had been granted a divorce:

pendleton 10-5-90 gazTurns out that while Pendleton was still married to the mother of his children, he had been having an affair with Addie Cullen, a telephone operator who was described by one newspaper as “a second Venus.”

In the 1888 city directory Addie was one of three Cullen women (sisters?) who were operators at the Fort Worth phone company and who lived at the same address.

The scandal broke after newspapers learned that Mayor Pendleton had married Addie Cullen on July 5 in New Orleans. But . . . but  . . . but wasn’t Hizzoner already married? With children? Pendleton answered that charge by claiming that he had obtained a secret divorce in Illinois the previous year. But newspaper reporters soon discovered that the state of Illinois had no record of Pendleton’s divorce. Pendleton resigned from the office of mayor after serving less than four months. City Councilman J. P. Nicks, mayor pro tem, served as acting mayor until a special election was held on August 4.

On August 5 the Fort Worth Gazette reported that John Peter Smith had been elected to the third of three terms he would serve as mayor.

In that same August 5 edition the Gazette reported in a brief that Hizz(dis)oner had been heard from and was living in Chicago.

The Gazette printed reactions of other Texas newspapers to the election of Smith. Note that a Houston paper could not resist a dig at Pendleton.

Indeed, the Pendleton-Cullen affair caused a sensation beyond Fort Worth. These clips are from, top to bottom, the New York Times (July 12), Brenham Banner (July 24), and Austin Statesman (September 18).

Crave more? Here are articles from, top to bottom, the Austin Statesman (July 17), San Saba News (July 18), and San Marcos Free Press (July 24). The Free Press article is the earliest I have found that indicates that Pendleton was no longer mayor nineteen days after his marriage to Addie Cullen.

In fact, coverage of the scandal in the Fort Worth Gazette is hard to find. Maybe some issues are missing from the archives. Or maybe, because the Spring Palace had burned May 30, just five weeks before the scandal broke, the newspaper, as the voice of the town, was too stunned by the double blow to speak. This brief appeared in the Brenham Banner on July 24.

Fast forward to December 1890. Five months had passed. Pendleton told his side of the scandal to the New York Sun, and on December 5 the Gazette reprinted the story. Pendleton claimed he had been the victim of a “divorce mill”: In August 1889 Pendleton, himself a lawyer, had paid $265 to a law firm in New York City to file for him in the state of Illinois a divorce suit on the grounds of “incompatibility of temper.”

But a child of the Pendletons had been ill at the time, and Pendleton, his friends said, had chosen not to tell his wife that she was now an ex-wife. The child died, and afterward Pendleton had told his wife about the divorce. In April 1890 Pendleton was elected mayor.

Pendleton later claimed he had assumed his divorce was valid until he read otherwise in the newspapers after his marriage to Addie Cullen on July 5. But the divorce decree turned out to be worthless. The seal of the Cook County, Illinois, court was bogus, the signature of the court clerk a forgery.

Long story made short: In October 1890 Mrs. Pendleton got a valid divorce from Mr. Pendleton; Mr. Pendleton got a valid marriage to Addie Cullen. (Clips from the October 5, 1890 Gazette and October 23, 1890 Brenham Banner.)

Perhaps Fort Worth voters should have expected no good to come out of that mayoral election of 1890. On election day the Gazette published the following brief editorial urging voters to go to the polls. Election day that year fell on April 1, April Fools’ Day:

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2 Responses to Dial “M” for “Monogamy”: A Southwestern Belle Tolls for Thee, Mayor

  1. Janis Smith Shaffer says:

    Bravo, Mike. Glad to know the whole story.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Janis, for the heads-up on Hizzoner. Your great-grandfather Nicks probably told Pendleton to keep his mustache holstered.

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