When Women Went to Nevada for ‘the Reno Cure’

The rich history of a divorce mill

If you watch classic cinema, you know “Reno” is code for divorce. And if you watched the AMC series Mad Men, you know Betty Draper took a trip to Reno, at the end of Season 3, for that very reason.

Why Reno?

Between 1900 and 1970, Reno was the Divorce Capital of the World. Nevada’s earlier status as a U.S. territory played a crucial role. With a six-month residency requirement, it was shorter (and faster) than the one-year requirement in other states.

Who traveled to Nevada for divorce?

A high-profile divorce popularized the destination for Californians. Laura Corey was married to one of the world’s wealthiest men — a steel magnate — and her temporary move to Reno got written up in The San Francisco Call newspaper, in 1909.

Where did divorcees stay?

Luxurious hotels were built, specifically to cater to the divorce trade. Ranches, boardinghouses, all types of residences, opened their doors for the divorce business.

George Cukor’s The Women, 1939
George Cukor’s The Women, 1939

Why were the divorce-seekers mostly women?

How did the women bide their time?

Dancing, drinking, dining, and live entertainment. A so-called “sin city,” Reno offered countless ways to amuse yourself, if you had cash to throw around.

What ended “the Reno cure?”

Divorce reform. By the 1970s, most states allowed “no-fault” divorces, making a trek to Reno unnecessary.

All your Reno divorce questions, answered

Here’s a treasure trove for anyone interested in the fascinating history of divorce in Reno, Nevada.

Random stories I encountered while researching divorce in Reno:

  • A woman spent her six-week residency time in jail, successfully avoiding the costs of food and lodging.
  • Divorces in Paris were also made famous by a celebrity couple.
  • Some women went on a six-week weight loss program, while staying in Reno.
  • Two sisters grew up on a divorce ranch — one of them married a man whose wife had stayed at the ranch.
  • A divorcee stayed in Reno for 10 years, after landing a plum job as a card-dealer in a club.
  • Newly-divorced women would throw their wedding rings over Virginia Street Bridge, nicknamed the “Bridge of Sighs,” located near the courthouse.
  • Famous actresses who came to Reno for divorce ended up performing in theatrical plays during their stay.

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