Argued February 7th, 1947.
Decided May 15th, 1947.
Decree of Prerogative Court, setting aside decree of Orphans Court admitting the will in question to probate on the ground of testatrix' insanity, affirmed.
On appeal from a decree of the Prerogative Court, advised by Vice-Ordinary Bigelow, who filed the following opinion:
"This is an appeal from a decree of the Essex County Orphans Court admitting to probate the will of Louisa F. Strittmater. Appellants challenge the decree on the ground that testatrix was insane.
"The only medical witness was Dr. Sarah D. Smalley, a general practitioner who was Miss Strittmater's physician all her adult life. In her opinion, decedent suffered from paranoia of the Bleuler type of split personality. The factual evidence justifies the conclusion. But I regret not having had the benefit of an analysis of the data by a specialist in diseases of the brain.
"The deceased never married. Born in 1896, she lived with her parents until their death about 1928, and seems to have had a normal childhood. She was devoted to both her parents and they to her. Her admiration and love of her parents persisted after their death to 1934, at least. Yet four years later she wrote: `My father was a corrupt, vicious, and unintelligent savage, a typical specimen of the majority of his sex. Blast his wormstinking carcass and his whole damn breed.' And in 1943, she inscribed on a photograph of her mother `That Moronic she-devil that was my mother.'
"Numerous memoranda and comments written by decedent on the margins of books constitute the chief evidence of her mental condition. Most of them are dated in 1935, when she was 40 years old. But there are enough in later years to indicate no change in her condition. The master who heard the case in the court below, found that the proofs demonstrated `incontrovertably her morbid aversion to men' and `feminism to a neurotic extreme.' This characterization seems to me not strong enough. She regarded men as a class with an insane hatred. She looked forward to the day when women would bear children without the aid of men, and all males would be put to death at birth. Decedent's inward life, disclosed by what she wrote, found an occasional outlet such as the incident of the smashing of the clock, the killing of the pet kitten, vile language, c. On the other hand — and I suppose this is the split personality — Miss Strittmater, in her dealings with her lawyer, Mr. Semel, over a period of several years, and with her bank, to cite only two examples, was entirely reasonable and normal.
"Decedent, in 1925, became a member of the New Jersey branch of the National Women's Party. From 1939 to 1941, and perhaps later, she worked as a volunteer one day a week in the New York office, filing papers, c. During this period, she spoke of leaving her estate to the Party. On October 31st, 1944, she executed her last will, carrying this intention into effect. A month later, December 6th, she died. Her only relatives were some cousins of whom she saw very little during the last few years of her life.
"The question is whether Miss Strittmater's will is the product of her insanity. Her disease seems to have become well developed by 1936. In August of that year she wrote, `It remains for feministic organizations like the National Women's Party, to make exposure of women's "protectors" and "lovers" for what their vicious and contemptible selves are.' She had been a member of the Women's Party for eleven years at that time, but the evidence does not show that she had taken great interest in it. I think it was her paranoic condition, especially her insane delusions about the male, that led her to leave her estate to the National Women's Party. The result is that the probate should be set aside."
Mr. Laurence Semel, for the appellant.
Messrs. Peer Mahr ( Mr. Alfred H. Peer, of counsel), for the respondents.
The decree under review will be affirmed, for the reasons stated in the opinion of Vice-Ordinary Bigelow.
For affirmance — THE CHIEF-JUSTICE, BODINE, DONGES, HEHER, WACHENFELD, EASTWOOD, DILL, FREUND, McGEEHAN, McLEAN, JJ. 10.
For reversal — COLIE, WELLS, JJ. 2.