Nine-year-old Eunice Winstead Johns and her husband, Charlie Johns, 22, at their home in Sneedville, Tennessee, in 1937. Credit: AP

Courtney Kosnik was 16 when she met the man who would become her husband in a Detroit coffee shop. She thought she’d met her savior. She was living in poverty, under the care of an alcoholic mother who struggled to hold down jobs. He promised her stability. Two months later, he proposed.

No one in Kosnik’s life seemed bothered by the fact that the man was 28, more than a decade older than his bride-to-be, and he had a plan to get around her status as a legal minor: They just needed her mother’s permission to wed, and if she didn’t give it, they could always drive down to Ohio, where the rules around marriage were less strict.

Kosnik’s mother didn’t need much convincing. The man seemed polished and friendly, and he said that he could provide a “better moral upbringing” for her daughter. “Isn’t it crazy that someone wanted to give their wife a ‘moral upbringing’?” Kosnik, now 47, said. “I should […]

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