Although the first American divorce was granted in 1639, the practice was not widely accepted until the last quarter of the 20th century. In a January 4, 1943 article, Time magazine reports on the slow liberalization of divorce in America.
Divorce Wins a Verdict
On Oct. 4. 1940 the Nevada divorce mill ground out another decree, like thousands before and since. Middle-aged O.B. Williams and Mrs. Lillie Shaver Hendrix stopped six weeks at a Las Vegas auto camp to qualify for residence. They divorced their former spouses and were married. Back in North Carolina, a strange homecoming awaited them: each was convicted of bigamous cohabitation and sentenced to jail.
Last week the U.S. Supreme Court set aside their conviction and instructed every State to recognize Nevada divorces. For the Williamses, for uncounted* Smiths, Joneses, Thompsons, for Elliott Roosevelt, Barbara Hutton and Edgar Rice Burroughs, a six-week divorce became as valid in strait-laced North Carolina as in tolerant Nevada.
The six-to-two Supreme Court decision not only sent the Williamses home to live as man and wife; it swept on to clear the legitimacy of children of divorced parents who remarry. It ducked the question of property rights. Overturned was a 37-year precedent, the Haddock v. Haddock case, in which the court held New York need not give full faith and credit to a Connecticut divorce decree.
Among stringent divorce States, New Jersey prepared to fight; New York, to yield. Said New Jersey's Representative Donald H. McLean: "There will be resentment from other States whose public policy has been to prevent mail-order and perfunctory divorces." New York's Solicitor General Henry Epstein disagreed. Said he: "This is a great step forward in securing uniform divorce laws for the country."
* In 1941 alone, 6,430 divorce suits were filed in Nevada. It seems safe to assume that all were granted.