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In 'The Great Divorce': A Mover Against The Shakers

The revolutionary Eunice Chapman, who won the first legal divorce in New York State in 1818 -- then became embroiled in an epic custody battle with her ex-husband.
The revolutionary Eunice Chapman, who won the first legal divorce in New York State in 1818 -- then became embroiled in an epic custody battle with her ex-husband.

On an unseasonably cold night in May of 1818, a mob carrying torches surrounded the small village of Enfield, N.H. They had gathered to rescue three children -- Julia, Susan and George Chapman -- who were being held by the religious sect known as the Shakers.

At the head of the mob was Eunice Chapman, the children's mother. She was determined to regain custody of her kids, who had been taken from her by her ex-husband James. At a time when American women had neither property rights nor civil rights, Eunice was a revolutionary.

Her incredible story is the focus of a new book by Ilyon Woo called The Great Divorce: A Nineteenth-Century Mother's Extraordinary Fight against Her Husband, the Shakers, and Her Times. She speaks with NPR's Guy Raz about life in a 19th-century Shaker village and how Eunice eventually managed to get her children back.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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