Passing the Time

Members of Reno’s divorce colony sought out services, entertainment, and jobs in a community happy to cater to them.

Audio Tour
Project curator Mella Harmon outlines the various activities pursued by divorce-seekers, as well as community efforts to secure their business.

Although brief by legal standards, the residency period required to secure a Reno divorce was not an insignificant span of time. Whether six months, three months, or six weeks, it added up to a lot of hours. How divorce-seekers chose to fill those hours varied widely. For those with means, the residency period could resemble an extended vacation, a passport to weeks of unbridled leisure. For those who needed to subsidize their stay, Reno provided a range of employment opportunities for all levels of skill and experience.

Many temporary residents were happy to learn that the YWCA ran an employment agency specifically for them. Available jobs ran the gamut from candy store clerk to working as a camera girl in the showrooms and nightclubs. There were jobs for men as well. Some worked as ranch hands and others on WPA crews during the Great Depression. The casino industry provided a unique form of employment for many divorce-seekers new to the world of legalized gambling.

Helping these temporary residents to pass their time in Reno could be lucrative. During the 1930s alone, divorce brought in more than $3 million a year to Nevada’s economy. Besides housing and legal services, divorce-seekers had the same needs as any permanent resident: food and drink, clothing and other necessities, entertainment, transportation, and legal, medical, and dental services. Some needed a translator or wanted a dietitian for a six-week weight-loss program.

Many local businesses specifically courted the divorce colony through targeted advertising and special events. Reno provided the divorce-seekers with everything they wanted and needed, as well as some things they might never have considered. All in all, American ingenuity and industry flourished in Reno during its divorce heyday.

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