Gladys Pearl Monroe was born on 27th May 1902, to Otis and Della Monroe. Gladys had one brother named Marion and when she was a child the family moved constantly. When Gladys Pearl Monroe was just seven, Otis contracted syphillis of the brain and died in the California State Hospital for the mentally ill. At the time the family did not know that syphillis was the cause of death, thinking Otis was insane, and so began a fear within the family that insanity was a family trait. In 1910, the family settled in Los Angeles and by 1912 Della had remarried to Lyle Arthur Graves, although the marriage was short lived – they were divorced by 1914.
In 1916 Gladys met and fell for Jasper Baker, though Baker was twelve years older than Gladys, it wasn’t long before she was pregnant with their first child. Della, who was by this time dating Charles Grainger, much to Gladys’ disapproval, was happy about the union as it left her free to marry Grainger without Glady’s judgement. Della insisted Gladys and Baker marry upon hearing about the pregnancy, and so, on 17th May 1917, Della swore that Gladys was 18, even though she was just ten days shy of her 15th birthday, so that Gladys could marry Baker. Eight months later Robert Jasper Baker was born, followed in 1919 by their daughter Berniece, but the marriage was not a happy one. By 1920 the couple were broke and living with Baker’s brother. Baker, by all accounts a violent man, was said to beat Gladys and deemed her an unfit mother after Robert fell from a car and permanently damaged his hip, whilst his parents argued in the front of the car. Gladys filed for divorce in 1921 and in documents it was recorded that Baker had caused “extreme mental pain, anxiety and humiliation, as well as to suffer grevious bodily pain and injury.”
The divorce was made official in May 1922 but that was not the end of Gladys’ mental anguish. Shortly after the divorce was finalised Baker kidnapped the two children and moved them to Kentucky. Gladys spent all her savings trying to get the children back, including travelling to Kentucky and begging her former sister in law for help. Instead of helping her, Gladys ended up being banned from seeing the children. At the time Robert was in hospital for surgery on his ongoing hip problems.
Gladys Pearl Monroe remained in Kentucky, even getting a job whilst waiting for Robert to get out of hospital. However, once Robert was home Gladys realised that she had lost them to Baker and his new wife and decided it was better for the children to leave them with their father.
On her return to Los Angeles, Gladys got a job in Consolidated Film Industries and befriended Grace McKee.