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The divorce capital of the US

Thanks to a long article in the New York Times (4/23/02), I understand why Tim Brown is angry at me for quoting expert James Q, Wilson as saying that Oklahoma is the divorce capital of the US. Tim lives in Incline Village, not far from Reno, Nevada, and that brings back distant memories. In the early 30s, I was sitting in a square in Harfleur, France, making a very incompetent sketch of the facade of a church. A middle-aged American woman came and sat besides me. She must have been very lonely. We talked about America, and she brought up in an embarrassed way the name of Reno, then the divorce capital of the US. In 1931 Congress passed a law requiring states to recognize divorces in other states. In most states the proceedings could drag on interminably, but in Nevada only a six-week stay was required, so the unhappily married rushed there, a boon for the tourist industry. I wondered if that poor woman had been a six-week sojourner in Nevada.

When I came to the US in 1937 and crossed the country, the train went through Reno at night. I looked out of the sleeping car window and saw on the platform a large electric sigh saying "THE BIGGEST LITTLE CITY IN THE WORLD". I suppose it was all those sojourners who made it big. Then, in 1960 Congress passed a no-fault divorce law, and Reno business collapsed, like the ostrich-feather women's fashion some time earlier. To add insult to injury, Las Vegas, which had been just a speck on the map, grew to be the biggest city in Nevada thanks to electricity from the nearby Hoover Dam. Thanks to gambling and prostitution it prospered. Herbert Hoover, whose uprightness I deeply respect, must be turning over in his grave. Recently Reno has been in an uproar over several urbanization proposals, notably to replace the bridge over the Truckee River from which the liberated women threw their wedding rings. It was made famous in a movie featuring Marilyn Munroe. The uproar led to a movement to restore the historic monuments of Reno's golden age. Photographs in the NYT article showed one of the log residences in which the ladies lived. It should be called Notre Dame de la Divorce. I get the impression that it was mostly the women who initiated divorce proceedings, but this is outside the area of my expertise.

Ronald Hilton - 4/24/02