Reno and the African American Divorce Trade: Two Case Studies

Reno Arch

From 1906 until the late 1960s, Reno, Nevada was known as the “Divorce Capital of the World.” Before the modern age of no-fault divorce, legal dissolution of marriage could take years, or it was simply not allowed. Early in the twentieth century, a number of states competed for the nation’s migratory divorce trade and the economic opportunities found in offering relatively quick divorces. Lenient divorce laws were usually centered on a residency requirement and allowable grounds for divorce. In 1931, when the Great Depression was raging, Nevada cornered the migratory divorce market by lowering its residency period to six weeks.

Reno was the state’s largest city at the time and the center of the divorce trade. The town developed a well-oiled machine that included a wide selection of divorce lawyers. Hotels, boardinghouses, and divorce ranches provided necessary housing, ensuring that the six-week residency requirement was given sufficient authority to assuage the charges that it was a legal sham. During the 1930s, the

Washoe County Courthouseprocessed more than 30,000 divorce cases, mostly for people from other states and countries.

While The Biggest Little City in the World welcomed divorce seekers from all socioeconomic levels and diverse ethnic origins, it was not progressive in its dealings with racial minorities, a reality that extended to the divorce trade. Although not formally legislated, the city openly practiced strict racial segregation from the early 1900s through the 1960s. Most minorities were restricted in their housing and employment options, and they were not served in white restaurants and bars. African Americans could not enter white casinos or seek accommodations in white hotels.

Mella Harmon

Online Nevada Encyclopedia

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