Divorce and Divorce Ranches in Nevada
by Meggan Connors
In the era between 1920 and the early 1960s, divorce was still taboo in much of the country. But in one state—Nevada—divorce was seen as a way to bolster a flagging economy.
The state of Nevada is known for being a hotbed of sin, a reputation that continues today ("What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" anyone?). From gambling to prostitution to divorce, it seems as if nothing sacred. Divorce first became popularized in the state in 1920, when Mary Pickford came here in order to obtain her divorce from her first husband, actor Owen Moore. In most of the country, there was a waiting period for divorce. Not so in Nevada, where the only requirement was that one had to be a legal resident. At that time, that meant one had to live within the confines of Nevada for a period of six months.
In 1931, that rule would change.
In order to bolster the economy during the Great Depression, the legislature changed the residency requirement—one only had live in Nevada for six weeks in order to be considered a legal resident. That meant after six weeks, one could obtain a divorce. It was in that same year that gambling was officially legalized.
That's right, both divorce and gambling were viewed as a means to make money.
In most parts of the country, there were only a few reasons why a person could be granted a divorce, but in Nevada, there were nine. The most popular of these reasons was mental cruelty, which had a broad interpretation. For example, mental cruelty could be something as minute as "she talks to me while I'm reading," (The Divorce Seekers: A Photo Memoir of a Nevada Dude Wrangler). This, coupled with the loose residency requirements, led to Nevada becoming the divorce capital of the world.
Many people seeking divorce would come to the Reno area and rent apartments or stay in hotels, which was a boost the local economy, as it fueled jobs for full-time residents. At the same time, many people—mostly women—would come out and stay at so-called "divorce" or "dude" ranches. Nevada law only required that one spouse needed to be a legal Nevada resident, and therefore, the men stayed home and worked, while their soon-to-be ex-wives took a long vacation in Reno. In fact, it became so popular to come to Reno to stay in a divorce ranch that an entire lexicon sprang up around it. Women came to get "reno-vated" or to "take the six week cure."
And when a woman "went Reno," it meant that she ditched the dress, donned Levis, and flirted, danced, and gambled her way to a quickie divorce.
So, what did these women do while at the divorce ranch? What was the lure of staying at a divorce ranch rather than a hotel in town? Part of it was that these ranches offered a "frontier" experience. One of the most famous ranches, the Flying M E, located in Washoe Valley, offered a range of activities, from horseback riding to fishing and swimming in the pool. A typical day at the Flying M E might include horseback riding in the morning, followed by a trip into town for a visit with the lawyer, and then cocktails and a communal dinner. Afterwards, guests might go back into town for a night of gambling and drinks. While ranches like the Flying ME catered to their divorcing clientele, they were not strictly for divorcees. Many people, including Hollywood stars, went to the higher-end ranches such as the Flying M E for the exclusivity, privacy, and the western experience they offered.
On the other end of the spectrum, some divorce ranches offered a more rustic experience, with cabins that had neither running water nor toilets.
There was a little something for everyone seeking a divorce, with accommodations for every budget.
And given the number of wedding chapels that sprang up in and around Reno, and the ease with which one could obtain a marriage license, if a lady played her cards right, she could leave the state as she was when she arrived—a married woman.
The biggest difference?
The man she was married to.
When her father loses her in a poker game, Lexie Markland is sent to work in the household of Nicholas Wetherby for one year to pay off the debt. Innocent, but not naïve, she is savvy enough to know she must maintain her distance from this man, who frustrates her with his relentless teasing but whose kisses bring her to her knees. Because although she may be just another conquest to him, it’s not just her heart in jeopardy should she succumb to Nicholas’ considerable charms.
Since his brother's death almost a year before, nothing has held Nicholas’ attention for long—not women, not booze, not even an excellent hand at cards. Nothing, that is, until he meets the woman he won in a drunken night of poker. Intrigued by his prize and her chilly reserve, he makes it his mission to crack Lexie’s cool demeanor. But even as passion explodes between them, the question remains: will Nicholas be able to take the ultimate risk...and gamble on love?
Meggan Connors' debut novel, The Marker, is available through Amazon & Barnes and Noble
After discovering that her degree in English Literature/Linguistics and German didn't lend itself to gainful employment in her hometown, Meggan Connors decided to pursue a graduate degree in the very practical field of Speech Pathology (she really liked school). However, being an author was always her true calling. She now pens novels of love and loss, of high stakes and risk-takers, and is forever being surprised when her characters decide to take control of "her" book.
Meggan makes her home in the Wild West with her lawman husband, two children, and a menagerie of pets. She is a member of Romance Writers of America and the Sacramento Valley chapter. When she's not writing, she can be found playing with her kids, hiking in the mountains, or reading a book.
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