|Supreme Court Justice's life
through the eyes of his wife
RELEASED: August 21, 2001
DANVILLE, KY The memoirs of Malvina Shanklin Harlan, wife of Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan (Centre class of 1850) were recently published in the Journal of Supreme Court History. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg discovered the memoirs several years ago while preparing a speech for the Supreme Court Historical Society on Supreme Court wives.
Malvina Harlan was seventeen years old when she married John Marshall Harlan in 1856. The collection of her memoirs, Some Memories of a Long Life, 1854-1911, written in 1915, describes a personal account of her transformation from a young girl to a confident woman during the couple's 54 years of marriage.
Her writings recall several accounts in her life, as well as the impact she had on the life of her husband. One such influence was made during his decision to fight in the Civil War. As a slave-owning Kentuckian, fighting for the Confederate would be the obvious decision. However, such a call was not easy. The night he was considering which side to support, Malvina noted, "
he paced the floor until the dawn." He came to her bed and asked what she thought he should do, realizing that he had a duty to his wife and children, as well as his country. She replied, "You must do as you would do if you had neither wife nor children. I could not stand between you and your duty to the country and be happy." It was with these simple words that Harlan joined the Union Army in 1861.
Instances such as this are sprinkled through out Malvina Harlan's memoirs. They exhibit her significance in the life of her husband in the half a century of life spent together.
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