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Grass Widows

The origins of this term remain obscure, although it probably derives from an allusion to a bed made from straw or grass. The phrase refers to either an unmarried mother, discarded mistress or, more commonly, to a woman whose husband is absent from her. This latter sense of the term was used in Melbourne in the early 1850s to describe wives abandoned by gold-seeking men. Ellen Clacy, in A lady's visit to the gold diggings of Australia (1853), famously described grass widows as 'wives thus left in town to deplore their husbands' infatuation' with gold. Wife desertion was a statutory offence in colonial Victoria, and 'deserted wives' ultimately became a more common description than the colloquial 'grass widows'.

Christina Twomey

Twomey, Christina, Deserted and destitute: motherhood, wife desertion and colonial welfare, Australian Scholarly Publishing, Melbourne, 2002. Details