Where you went if you really had to get unhitched | History | Smithsonian

Where you went if you really had to get unhitched

In the days when divorce was still a sin and a shame, the city of Reno grew rich and infamous, catering to domestic disharmony

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Early this century, the state of Nevada, struggling to survive economically, discovered a new source of revenue: sin; more specifically, divorce. Liberal divorce rules and short residence requirements attracted disenchanted spouses from all over the country. Entrepreneurs saw dollar signs in the residence requirement and founded an authentically American institution, the divorce ranch.

Publicized in a long string of celebrity divorces Mary Pickford, Jack Dempsey, Mrs. Adlai Stevenson, Bobo Rockefeller, Rita Hayworth, Gloria Vanderbilt and numerous magazine articles, newspaper stories, and movies such as The Women, and The Misfits, Reno became the mythological divorce capital of the Western world. The divorce ranches were the perfect setting for sensationalized and romanticized stories, of course. Most of the guests were young women, far from home, and on hand to entertain them while they waited for their divorce hearings were rowdy wranglers and Champagne Charlies. Now that liberalized divorce laws in other states have ruined Nevada's monopoly, the divorce ranches have all closed their doors, and "The Biggest Little City in the World," as Reno calls itself, has moved on to other businesses.

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