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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

The Divorce Colony: Why Women Fled to South Dakota in the 1880s to End Their Troubled Marriages

00:00 47:59
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No-fault divorce laws began spreading across the globe in the 1970s, in which neither party had to prove wrong-doing. Before this time, somebody had to prove that the other party breached the marital contract, typically through infidelity or desertion. Basically, it was shockingly difficult to get divorced. For a woman in the late 19th century, there was only one place in the country to reliably get a divorce: Sioux Falls, otherwise known as the “Divorce Colony,” a place where the land and the laws had not yet been tamed.

To explore this topic further is today’s guest April White, author of “The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier.” She discusses the stories of four real women who made the trek to Sioux Falls to get their divorces because the new state had short residency requirements before a settler fell under the jurisdiction of its flexible laws. We discuss salacious newspaper headlines, juicy court documents, and high-profile cameos from the era’s most well-known socialites to unveil the incredible social, political, and personal dramas that unfolded in Sioux Falls and reverberated around the country.

In particular, we discuss how the scandalous divorces of socialites and actresses at the turn-of-the-century led to greater acceptance of divorce in the United States; why turn-of-the-century suffragists were split on the question of divorce; and wow increased access to divorce changed the role of women in the United States.
August 25, 2022
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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