Divorce in Popular Culture


Packing a visual punch, postcards sent personal stories and public images of the Reno divorce outward into the world.

Postcards invoking the Reno divorce, and the diversity of the pictures and messages they contained, helped to disseminate and solidify images of the Reno divorce in American popular culture.  Whether kept as a personal souvenir or mailed to a relative or friend, postcards literally brought the divorce trade home.

Photographic cards provided accurate depictions of Reno and its landscape, while the vast array of humorous cartoons and drawings found on others reflected the underlying theme of Reno divorce as a national joke. Caricatures of Reno’s eclectic cast of characters included angry spouses, joyful divorcées, dandified cowboys, and bemused judges.

As is any city, Reno’s hotels and motels advertised through postcards, which were generally available for purchase at the front desk. Because residency played such an important role in the divorce trade, these cards provide an important record of the types of lodging available in Reno, and lend further insight into the experiences of its divorce colony.

Of course, many postcards were actually inscribed, addressed, and mailed, leaving behind intriguing tidbits of stories for collectors to scrutinize. Some vague, some startlingly specific, these messages provide a unique record of observations and clues from firsthand participants in the divorce trade and from those viewing it as interested spectators.

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Lew Hymers

Lew Hymers (1892-1953) was the most prolific caricaturist in 20th century Nevada. His postcards caricaturing the Reno scene, including its divorce landscape, are some of the most witty and engaging, reflecting his deep knowledge of and affection for his native city of Reno.

After completing his schooling, Hymers worked as a young man in the art department of the San Francisco Chronicle and pursued art instruction overseas in Germany and France. He also spent time working for the Walt Disney Company, as a cartoonist for the Washington Post, and as a freelance commercial artist in the Los Angeles area.

Returning to Reno in 1932, Hymers published a book of stock cuts featuring hundreds of pen and ink illustrations. In the 1930s and 1940s, his feature “Seen About Town” appeared in the Nevada State Journal, one of Reno’s two daily newspapers.  The popular series of caricatures depicted prominent citizens from Reno and the broader region. Hymers published a compilation of his drawings from the newspaper, advertisements, greeting cards, and postcards in the 1944 book Seen About Town.

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