Arnold Schwarzenegger Joins the Love Child Club

Class and power play out when politicians have illicit affairs with women.

ByABC News
May 17, 2011, 3:02 PM

May 17, 2011— -- Arnold Schwarzenegger's "love child" -- one that he has financially supported for 10 years -- recalls other affairs between men of power and women who have agreed to keep their children's identities secret.

Just this week, the former governor of California announced that he had fathered a child with a two-decade long household employee, citing it as the reason he and Maria Shriver, his wife of 25 years, were separating.

Shriver only learned of the affair, which happened more than a decade ago, when her husband left political office.

"Caste, race, class, money, gender and power all play out in ways that profoundly disadvantage women," said Adele Logan Alexander, a research professor of American history at George Washington University in assessing Schwarzenegger's announcement.

"Think too, in others of today's headlines, of Dominque Strauss-Kahn and his presumed sexual assault on who?" she asked. "A hotel maid."

Schwarzenegger, 63, said in a statement released to the Los Angeles Times: "There are no excuses and I take full responsibility for the hurt I have caused. I understand and deserve the feelings of anger and disappointment among my friends and family. I have apologized to Maria, my children and my family. I am truly sorry."

Shriver, 55, broke her silence to say, "This is a painful and heartbreaking time. As a mother, my concern is for the children. I ask for compassion, respect and privacy as my children and I try to rebuild our lives and heal. I will have no further comment."

The couple has four children. The newspaper has not published the name of the former staffer or her child. Up to now, she has claimed the child was her husband's, according to newspaper reports.

Often, as was the case in the Schwarzenegger affair, the mothers of these children are silenced.

"Power is at the core of it -- droit de seigneur," Alexander said of the mythical right of European lords to take the virginity of their serfs' maidens.

Such was the case with another famous politician, South Carolina's Sen. Strom Thurmond, who had a biracial "love child" with a black maid that was kept under wraps until his death at the age of 100 in 2003.

His daughter, Essie May Washington, now 85, wrote about her secret relationship with her rich, white father, saying that the senator had been "very good" to her family. Though he had paid her 60 visits over a lifetime, she had never sat down to dinner with him.

Her mother was only about 15 when she submitted to Thurmond, according to Alexander, who reviewed the 2006 memoir.

"Thurmond took advantage of a girl who was in his family's employ and had no power or options open to her," she said.

"Similar situations manifest themselves in all sorts of ways -- in American and other Western hemisphere slave societies where owners used enslaved women, and often impregnated them," she said.

In the old South, "everyone knew who the children were and no one said anything," said Alexander. "No one dared to challenge the masters."

Thomas Jefferson was supposed to have sired several children with Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello, a subject that been debated for generations.