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The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier

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From a historian and senior editor at Atlas Obscura, a fascinating account of the daring nineteenth-century women who moved to South Dakota to divorce their husbands and start living on their own terms. For a woman traveling without her husband in the late nineteenth century, there was only one reason to take the train all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one sure to From a historian and senior editor at Atlas Obscura, a fascinating account of the daring nineteenth-century women who moved to South Dakota to divorce their husbands and start living on their own terms. For a woman traveling without her husband in the late nineteenth century, there was only one reason to take the train all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one sure to garner disapproval from fellow passengers. On the American frontier, the new state offered a tempting freedom often difficult to obtain elsewhere: divorce. With the laxest divorce laws in the country, five railroad lines, and the finest hotel for hundreds of miles, the small city became the unexpected headquarters for unhappy spouses—infamous around the world as The Divorce Colony. These society divorcees put Sioux Falls at the center of a heated national debate over the future of American marriage. As clashes mounted in the country's gossip columns, church halls, courtrooms and even the White House, the women caught in the crosshairs in Sioux Falls geared up for a fight they didn't go looking for, a fight that was the only path to their freedom. In The Divorce Colony, writer and historian April White unveils the incredible social, political, and personal dramas that unfolded in Sioux Falls and reverberated around the country through the stories of four very different women: Maggie De Stuers, a descendent of the influential New York Astors whose divorce captivated the world; Mary Nevins Blaine, a daughter-in-law to a presidential hopeful with a vendetta against her meddling mother-in-law; Blanche Molineux, an aspiring actress escaping a husband she believed to be a murderer; and Flora Bigelow Dodge, a vivacious woman determined, against all odds, to obtain a "dignified" divorce. Entertaining, enlightening, and utterly feminist, The Divorce Colony is a rich, deeply researched tapestry of social history and human drama that reads like a novel. Amidst salacious newspaper headlines, juicy court documents, and high-profile cameos from the era's most well-known players, this story lays bare the journey of the turn-of-the-century socialites who took their lives into their own hands and reshaped the country's attitudes about marriage and divorce.


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From a historian and senior editor at Atlas Obscura, a fascinating account of the daring nineteenth-century women who moved to South Dakota to divorce their husbands and start living on their own terms. For a woman traveling without her husband in the late nineteenth century, there was only one reason to take the train all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one sure to From a historian and senior editor at Atlas Obscura, a fascinating account of the daring nineteenth-century women who moved to South Dakota to divorce their husbands and start living on their own terms. For a woman traveling without her husband in the late nineteenth century, there was only one reason to take the train all the way to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, one sure to garner disapproval from fellow passengers. On the American frontier, the new state offered a tempting freedom often difficult to obtain elsewhere: divorce. With the laxest divorce laws in the country, five railroad lines, and the finest hotel for hundreds of miles, the small city became the unexpected headquarters for unhappy spouses—infamous around the world as The Divorce Colony. These society divorcees put Sioux Falls at the center of a heated national debate over the future of American marriage. As clashes mounted in the country's gossip columns, church halls, courtrooms and even the White House, the women caught in the crosshairs in Sioux Falls geared up for a fight they didn't go looking for, a fight that was the only path to their freedom. In The Divorce Colony, writer and historian April White unveils the incredible social, political, and personal dramas that unfolded in Sioux Falls and reverberated around the country through the stories of four very different women: Maggie De Stuers, a descendent of the influential New York Astors whose divorce captivated the world; Mary Nevins Blaine, a daughter-in-law to a presidential hopeful with a vendetta against her meddling mother-in-law; Blanche Molineux, an aspiring actress escaping a husband she believed to be a murderer; and Flora Bigelow Dodge, a vivacious woman determined, against all odds, to obtain a "dignified" divorce. Entertaining, enlightening, and utterly feminist, The Divorce Colony is a rich, deeply researched tapestry of social history and human drama that reads like a novel. Amidst salacious newspaper headlines, juicy court documents, and high-profile cameos from the era's most well-known players, this story lays bare the journey of the turn-of-the-century socialites who took their lives into their own hands and reshaped the country's attitudes about marriage and divorce.

30 review for The Divorce Colony: How Women Revolutionized Marriage and Found Freedom on the American Frontier

  1. 4 out of 5

    Erin

    Giveaway Win! I've never been married but if I do get married someday, it'll probably end in divorce. I know me and I'm not the marrying type. Luckily I live in a time when getting a divorce is "relatively" easy to get divorced. It still cost money and it's cheaper and easier if both parties want the divorce but if you don't have kids and you have the money to file the papers it's more of a nuisance than anything else( I'm only using my family and friends experiences as my opinion on this). But ov Giveaway Win! I've never been married but if I do get married someday, it'll probably end in divorce. I know me and I'm not the marrying type. Luckily I live in a time when getting a divorce is "relatively" easy to get divorced. It still cost money and it's cheaper and easier if both parties want the divorce but if you don't have kids and you have the money to file the papers it's more of a nuisance than anything else( I'm only using my family and friends experiences as my opinion on this). But over 100 years ago things were different. Most states made it impossible to get divorced for any reason. Enter Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where for the right price one could obtain a divorce. This wasn't for the everyday American, a Sioux Falls divorce was expensive. You needed to travel to Sioux Falls, set up residency anywhere from 3 months to 6 months and you needed to pay for a Sioux Falls lawyer. Sioux Falls quickly became the go to place for rich white (mostly women) to get divorced. The Divorce Colony explores the cases of 4 women who moved to Sioux Falls to end their marriages and the consequences of their actions. Divorce was and still is a touchy subject both personally and politically. With families, religious leaders and politicians using "the sanctity of marriage" to oppress women, people of color and lgbtq+ communities. This book was an interesting look at how difficult life was for women, even the very rich back in those days. Despite being wealthy these women were often powerless in society and even after getting their freedom these women were often banished from society(it won't surprise you that divorced men just continued on with their lives unimpeded). I enjoyed The Divorce Colony and flew this read. I would have liked to know more about non rich women who moved to Sioux Falls seeking divorces. I'm sure some women must have spent every penny they had in an attempt to end their unhappy marriages but the author never mentions them. And I would love to know how non white women were treated when seeking divorces. As interesting as I may find the 1%, those women would have been just fine divorce or no divorce. And an exploration of regular women would be super fascinating to read about. Overall I fully recommend this book and I look forward to seeking more books on this subject in the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Karen

    THE DIVORCE COLONY BY: APRIL WHITE This was an eye opening account of divorce that centers around four White well to do women who traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to obtain a divorce from their husbands. This was in the end of the 1800's and most women would travel by train and stay in a very fancy hotel called the Cataract House to stay the minimum of time required to establish residency. It was the place to go during that era that required the shortest amount of time of establishing an addr THE DIVORCE COLONY BY: APRIL WHITE This was an eye opening account of divorce that centers around four White well to do women who traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota to obtain a divorce from their husbands. This was in the end of the 1800's and most women would travel by train and stay in a very fancy hotel called the Cataract House to stay the minimum of time required to establish residency. It was the place to go during that era that required the shortest amount of time of establishing an address that was most often temporary until divorce was granted. In most cases once the divorce was obtained, the person would immediately leave Sioux Falls and move back to where they lived. This book chronicles four women of means and describes their situations. Not everybody had the money that it took to travel to South Dakota to bypass the stricter laws in their home States to terminate their marriages. This fact I found surprising because of the fewer privileges allowed women during this time period than White men is that two out of three to seek a divorce were women. The full time residents of Sioux Falls, South Dakota, didn't like the idea that their hotel hosted all of the temporary folks using their town to basically be a revolving door of temporary residents staying only to leave once their divorces were granted. This book examines closely the religious and political opinions of these "migratory divorces," that at one point reached President Theodore Roosevelt. I found this narrative to be very enlightening about a historical record that is meticulously researched. It is basically divided up into four parts telling about each of the four women interspersed with factual data about many other cases. This was at times overwhelming with information but also accessible in the way this non-fiction book divided the four parts about four women who sought divorces during the late 1800's into the first decade of the 1900's. Part One discusses an Astor descendant. Her name was Maggie De Stuers whose lineage was from the rich Astor family from New York. Part Two focuses on Mary Nevins Blaine the daughter-in-law of a political family whose Father-in-law had aspirations of running for President. Part Three was about Blanche Molineux, a woman who thought her husband a murderer. Part Four was about Flora Bigelow a Socialite who almost stayed on to make her home in Sioux Falls, which stood out to me because everyone else didn't that I read about. I had never heard of any of these divorcees before reading this. I imagine everybody will recognize the Astor family. This is a book that was fascinating and almost reads like fiction. It is very dense with details and one that I highly recommend to everyone who is interested in the history of marriage and divorce during the Gilded age and the reverberations of that topic and how it relates to the present. None of the main four women discussed in this book wanted the attention or infamy that they received. The newspapers seemed to be very interested in reporting about the four women that make up the four parts of this book. They received the undesired attention both within the U.S. and abroad with the attention that celebrities garner because they were thrust center stage by the men who opposed them and the religious, political, legal, and social obstacles they faced. Maggie for the most part avoided the press, but relented and finally spoke her truth after her husband disparaged her first. I found this book to be different from what I had initially expected it to be. It surprised me that such a scholarly written book would also be as interesting and highly original as it is. There is such a broad scope of information and people associated as well as different States case law to be included in a review of April White's master's thesis which is inclusive of the divorce colony's full history. Prior to her master's thesis she published an article about Maggie De Stuers's story in the Atavist magazine. Perhaps Maggie's story stands out to be more well known because of her being a member of the Astor family and its fame for wealth and because the Astor's were among the "four hundred". This book succeeds in having a scholarly basis and origin and guarantees to be intriguing and also is not light reading as its subject might suggest. It is comprehensive and well written citing an impressive amount of primary sources. Publication Date: 6/14/2022 Thank you to Net Galley, April White and Hachette Books for generously providing me with my ARC in exchange for a fair and honest review. All opinions are my own. #TheDivorceColony #AprilWhite #HachetteBooks #NetGalley

  3. 5 out of 5

    Biblio Files (takingadayoff)

    Spending time on genealogy and history has taught me that divorce is not nearly as rare as I once thought. Divorce has been encoded in American law since colonial times. For most of that time, divorce was prohibitive for most people, due to cost or effort. It was also a blot on your reputation, especially for women. But many people did pursue a divorce. Many who sought a divorce before the widespread availability of no-fault divorces found the laws in their own states to be difficult -- cause fo Spending time on genealogy and history has taught me that divorce is not nearly as rare as I once thought. Divorce has been encoded in American law since colonial times. For most of that time, divorce was prohibitive for most people, due to cost or effort. It was also a blot on your reputation, especially for women. But many people did pursue a divorce. Many who sought a divorce before the widespread availability of no-fault divorces found the laws in their own states to be difficult -- cause for divorce might be only desertion or adultery. Since every state had its own laws, people who could afford it filed for divorce in friendlier states, and this required becoming a resident. How long it took to become a legal resident was also up to each state, so a state that had lenient divorce laws and a short time to establish residency could become very popular. The Divorce Colony is about Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which had lenient divorce laws and a mere three-month residency requirement. Until 1908, Sioux Falls encouraged divorce tourism with an agreeable judge and a comfortable hotel for would-be residents. It still wasn't a cheap proposition, so most of those taking advantage of the situation were at least middle class. The Divorce Colony tells the story of four of the women who settled in Sioux Falls in order to dissolve their marriages. It's a great slice of history. Thanks to Hachette Books for a review copy.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Laura

    This book is so interesting. I grew up in Sioux Falls and had no idea about this part of its history. While not quite an Erik Larsonesque-nonfiction-that-reads-like-fiction-book, it is pretty close. It is fascinating to me that the location that the hotel occupied is now the location of the headquarters of Wells Fargo bank—also the result of state laws that made it attractive for national banks to headquarter in the state (just like the attractive divorce laws of the early 20th century). I also This book is so interesting. I grew up in Sioux Falls and had no idea about this part of its history. While not quite an Erik Larsonesque-nonfiction-that-reads-like-fiction-book, it is pretty close. It is fascinating to me that the location that the hotel occupied is now the location of the headquarters of Wells Fargo bank—also the result of state laws that made it attractive for national banks to headquarter in the state (just like the attractive divorce laws of the early 20th century). I also happened to read this book right before reading Trust by Hernan Diaz and The Man Who Broke Capitalism by David Gelles. Quite the trio of books to connect the gilded age, the financial system, greed, and feminism over time.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Jenifer

    Pretty much as soon as I heard about this book, I had to read it! I love Gilded Age history, fiction and literature, so the title and cover alone were pure catnip to me. White tells the true stories of four Gilded Age socialites who, along with hundreds of others over the course of several decades, moved to South Dakota in the hopes of utilizing the new state's less restrictive divorce laws. While this is a fascinating, well-researched look at the social and legal history of divorce reform durin Pretty much as soon as I heard about this book, I had to read it! I love Gilded Age history, fiction and literature, so the title and cover alone were pure catnip to me. White tells the true stories of four Gilded Age socialites who, along with hundreds of others over the course of several decades, moved to South Dakota in the hopes of utilizing the new state's less restrictive divorce laws. While this is a fascinating, well-researched look at the social and legal history of divorce reform during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, White's captivating narrative style really keeps the books focus on the women involved and those around them. Their individual stories drive home the sense of powerlessness, terror and despair that drove these women thousands of miles from their homes and families in order to escape traumatic, even dangerous, marriages. Throughout the book, I found myself rooting for Maggie, Mary, Blanche and Flora and hoping that they would be able to find happiness, while remembering that the vast majority of their contemporaries lacked the wealth, connections and immense privilege that gave these women even this risky, difficult chance at escaping a bad marriage. I particularly appreciated the epilogue, which brings us up to date from 1907 onwards, and made the connections between the legal, social and legislative battles of the Gilded Age and the impact of those advances on our current system. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys narrative nonfiction, Gilded Age history, and true accounts of strong women who fought for their second chances.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Sherrie

    ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** Y'all, let's take a moment to be grateful for the women who demanded the right to divorce their husbands, regardless of reason, and forced society to accept their existence. Divorce is something we take for granted now. It's an option and even though it's still painful and expensive and time consuming in many cases...nobody seriously questions the right of someone to divorce. The women (and some men) in The Divorce Colony traveled across the country i ***I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway*** Y'all, let's take a moment to be grateful for the women who demanded the right to divorce their husbands, regardless of reason, and forced society to accept their existence. Divorce is something we take for granted now. It's an option and even though it's still painful and expensive and time consuming in many cases...nobody seriously questions the right of someone to divorce. The women (and some men) in The Divorce Colony traveled across the country in 1800s to live for 6 months or more in order to get a divorce decree that many eastern states wouldn't even recognize. Politicians and preachers railed that these women were destroying society. It's preposterous to modern ears. The women of The Divorce Colony were all rich, white, "society" types from the east coast. We have to remember that those less privileged had no such option to get out of an ugly marriage. Things changed slowly as our society has moved towards equality but there is still a long way to go. All in all, this was an interesting little micro-history that resonates into the modern day.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Stephanie Amato

    Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an advanced readers copy. I really wanted to like this book and share it with my students. The story is not concise and there is too many details. It’s a very fascinating historical story that gets bogged down with descriptions of minor players.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Randi (readsrandiread)

    Talk about a timely non-fiction read!⁣ [gifted | Thank you @hachetteaudio & @hachettebooks]⁣⁣ ⁣ Okay, now that I read back my opening line, it may lead one to the wrong conclusion. No divorce is happening over here!! This book felt very timely because of how many parallels could be drawn between the way divorce was being handled/talked about/fought for in the late 1800’s - early 1900’s and the current events around abortion/women’s bodily autonomy. How the “morals” and religious opinions of white m Talk about a timely non-fiction read!⁣ [gifted | Thank you @hachetteaudio & @hachettebooks]⁣⁣ ⁣ Okay, now that I read back my opening line, it may lead one to the wrong conclusion. No divorce is happening over here!! This book felt very timely because of how many parallels could be drawn between the way divorce was being handled/talked about/fought for in the late 1800’s - early 1900’s and the current events around abortion/women’s bodily autonomy. How the “morals” and religious opinions of white men were used to make laws that really only hurt and punished women and why?? To “protect the family” 🤢⁣ ⁣ As one archbishop, who found the upswing in divorce to be “nothing less than appalling,” said in 1908…⁣ ⁣ “In former times, a woman who was divorced was shunned. Now this is not the case. If divorce is to be checked, let the divorced person be shunned.”⁣ ⁣ Notice anything missing from that quote?? Men!! The involvement of the men from the equation! Let’s just shun/punish the divorced women and not hold men accountable for squat! Now let’s substitute pregnant or abortion seeking/getting for divorce and well, you get the idea. ⁣ ⁣ It was also a great reminder of how far we have come and how it is only because people (women) fought for every inch we’ve been given! ⁣ ⁣ I found this book fascinating! It was not dry or boring as non-fiction can sometimes be. It was a surprisingly fast read/listen, I finished it in 2 days. ⁣ ⁣ 🎧 The audio narrator, Lisa Flanagan, was great. I enjoyed listening to the stories of these women who sought a divorce in the Divorce Colony of Sioux Falls, South Dakota. My only complaint about the audio is that is a little harder to realize we’ve switched to a new character arc, as it switches mid-chapter, than it would be with the physical book. But really that wasn’t a big enough problem to make me not recommend the audio. ⁣ ⁣ If you are looking to read a non-fiction book this summer, I recommend this one!

  9. 5 out of 5

    Karen ReadsALot

    Thank you for another Goodreads giveaway. Non-fiction that flows. Who knew Sioux Falls, South Dakota caused so much controversy by allowing people to get divorced. Who knew New York state was the last to become a "no fault" state in 2010. Much hardship, scandal and financial ruin follows divorce. Only the lawyers win. Thank you for another Goodreads giveaway. Non-fiction that flows. Who knew Sioux Falls, South Dakota caused so much controversy by allowing people to get divorced. Who knew New York state was the last to become a "no fault" state in 2010. Much hardship, scandal and financial ruin follows divorce. Only the lawyers win.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Carolyn Ragsdale

    Interesting topics and liked the authors explanation at the end (I listened on audible). She pointed out the differences in endnotes between the book and audible. I’d be interested to now see the book. It was hard for me to follow the people and dates while listening and multitasking. I liked what I heard on the high level but wish I could have gotten into the characters more. The author pointed out that there were 4 main stories at the end of the book, which I think I did follow, but so many ot Interesting topics and liked the authors explanation at the end (I listened on audible). She pointed out the differences in endnotes between the book and audible. I’d be interested to now see the book. It was hard for me to follow the people and dates while listening and multitasking. I liked what I heard on the high level but wish I could have gotten into the characters more. The author pointed out that there were 4 main stories at the end of the book, which I think I did follow, but so many other subplots lost me along the way.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Tyler

    Oh, I love a good Gilded Age story. I don’t normally indulge in salacious socialite or political dynasty gossip but since it’s technically history, I happily lapped it up! I had never heard of the “divorce colony” or Sioux Falls’ laxity on divorce before, so I was excited to read a book about such a niche topic. These women’s stories are incredible. They really fought for their rights and paved the way to make it easier for modern day women to enjoy ours. White’s writing style is perfect. It’s ea Oh, I love a good Gilded Age story. I don’t normally indulge in salacious socialite or political dynasty gossip but since it’s technically history, I happily lapped it up! I had never heard of the “divorce colony” or Sioux Falls’ laxity on divorce before, so I was excited to read a book about such a niche topic. These women’s stories are incredible. They really fought for their rights and paved the way to make it easier for modern day women to enjoy ours. White’s writing style is perfect. It’s easy to forget you’re reading about the real past. You can easily feel like you’ve slipped into a really good novel while reading this. I appreciate all of the dialogue and not just the simple retelling of what happened. I would definitely recommend it. I won this book as part of a Goodreads giveaway, and this is my honest review.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Aimee Dars

    Thank you to Hachette Books for a gifted copy of The Divorce Colony! In the late 1800s, the laws governing divorce in the United States varied greatly. In some states, no divorces were granted. Others, like New York, only allowed divorce in the case of adultery. The easiest (though by no means easy) place to get a divorce was South Dakota. With a shorter residency requirement and more grounds for divorce, South Dakota, particularly Sioux Falls, became a colony of Easterners hoping to end their ma Thank you to Hachette Books for a gifted copy of The Divorce Colony! In the late 1800s, the laws governing divorce in the United States varied greatly. In some states, no divorces were granted. Others, like New York, only allowed divorce in the case of adultery. The easiest (though by no means easy) place to get a divorce was South Dakota. With a shorter residency requirement and more grounds for divorce, South Dakota, particularly Sioux Falls, became a colony of Easterners hoping to end their marriages. Many of these were women determined to write a new destiny for themselves, one in which they were empowered to make their own decisions and demand more from their husbands. In 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘋𝘪𝘷𝘰𝘳𝘤𝘦 𝘊𝘰𝘭𝘰𝘯𝘺, April White recounts the colorful stories of four women who availed themselves of South Dakota’s laws. As she offers information about the women and their husbands—some adulterous, some abusive, some potentially murderers—she also talks about the political and religious context. The Episcopalian bishop in Sioux Falls abhorred divorce and attempted to thwart it through his sermons and lobbying. Even President Theodore Roosevelt, while not entirely opposed to divorce, thought obtaining one was too easy. A Supreme Court decision at the time deferred to the states so that conceivably, a couple could be recognized as divorced in one state, married in another, and jailed for bigamy. This historical account is engaging and clearly-written, not to mention eye-opening. I had no idea of how divorce laws developed over time in the U.S. Given recent events, I couldn’t also help but think how a patchwork of differing laws on some issues creates injustice for those in certain states, nor could I not get irritated that men in power so often decide to become arbiters of private affairs. I recommend to readers who like women’s history or are interested in the social and legal history of divorce.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Carleigh Obrochta

    This review was originally published by Library Journal. Thanks LJ for the advanced copy! “White follows four women (including an Astor and an aspiring actress) as they traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the late 19th century, all seeking the same thing: a divorce from their husbands. Sioux Falls attracted divorce-seekers from across the country—wealthy women in particular—with its five rail lines, its luxury hotel (rare on the frontier), and the most accomodating divorce laws in the U.S. T This review was originally published by Library Journal. Thanks LJ for the advanced copy! “White follows four women (including an Astor and an aspiring actress) as they traveled to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, in the late 19th century, all seeking the same thing: a divorce from their husbands. Sioux Falls attracted divorce-seekers from across the country—wealthy women in particular—with its five rail lines, its luxury hotel (rare on the frontier), and the most accomodating divorce laws in the U.S. The many Sioux Falls divorcées, nicknamed “the Divorce Colony” in the press, were at the center of a national debate about divorce and the state of American family. The dramatic lives of this book’s East Coast–socialite subjects will captivate White’s readers the way it captivated the American public a century ago. Just as fascinating, White expertly weaves in the politics of divorce (from churches to the courts to the White House) and does justice to the Divorce Colony women who she says started a revolution simply by seeking divorce. VERDICT A spellbinding look into a forgotten history, with engaging storytelling that makes it feel like a dramatic novel instead of the well-researched nonfiction it is. A must for anyone interested in women’s history.”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Sandra The Old Woman in a Van

    Divorce Colony will appeal to readers with: - A fascination or interest in the Gilded Age. - An interest in women's history and the history of divorce. - Preference for learning history through human experiences. I was pleased to learn more about all of the above. At times, though, I felt the number of minuscule details regarding the women and their lives was TMI. In addition, some sentences were long and took rereading to follow - overly gilded, IMO. In short, this book is a welcome addition to US Divorce Colony will appeal to readers with: - A fascination or interest in the Gilded Age. - An interest in women's history and the history of divorce. - Preference for learning history through human experiences. I was pleased to learn more about all of the above. At times, though, I felt the number of minuscule details regarding the women and their lives was TMI. In addition, some sentences were long and took rereading to follow - overly gilded, IMO. In short, this book is a welcome addition to US women's history. Some of us remember the era before no-fault divorce, but sadly many will not. Who knows when we'll go back to allowing divorce only for reasons enumerated in the Constitution. Given how court decisions are going, we would all benefit from understanding more about history. Thanks to NetGalley for giving me a free ebook in exchange for an honest review.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Chesney Arend

    When I saw this book on the good reads most anticipated books of June list for non-fiction I knew I had to read it. Rich women from the east coming to Sioux Falls of all places to get divorced in the 1890’s?? Sign me up!! It did not let me down! Note: I think this would probably appeal more to readers with some sort of connection to Sioux Falls or South Dakota because the book does a decent history lesson on some major players in the Minnehaha County Courthouse/legal system. I loved how the autho When I saw this book on the good reads most anticipated books of June list for non-fiction I knew I had to read it. Rich women from the east coming to Sioux Falls of all places to get divorced in the 1890’s?? Sign me up!! It did not let me down! Note: I think this would probably appeal more to readers with some sort of connection to Sioux Falls or South Dakota because the book does a decent history lesson on some major players in the Minnehaha County Courthouse/legal system. I loved how the author told the story through the perspective of four different women. I’m also really pissed the famous and beautiful hotel these women would stay at has been torn down because I would probably book a stay tonight.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Michele Karpinske

    This book caught my interest because I'm from South Dakota, and live 90 miles from Sioux Falls. I had never heard of the Divorce Colony before. White did extensive research on the Cataract House, the storied Hotel in Sioux Falls where the wealthy waited for their freedom. This book covered 4 women's journey to freedom. Maggie De Stuers, Mary Nevins Blaine, Blanche Molineux, & Flora Bigelow Dodge became somewhat of celebrities on their failed marriages and then divorces that were publicized. At t This book caught my interest because I'm from South Dakota, and live 90 miles from Sioux Falls. I had never heard of the Divorce Colony before. White did extensive research on the Cataract House, the storied Hotel in Sioux Falls where the wealthy waited for their freedom. This book covered 4 women's journey to freedom. Maggie De Stuers, Mary Nevins Blaine, Blanche Molineux, & Flora Bigelow Dodge became somewhat of celebrities on their failed marriages and then divorces that were publicized. At the turn of the century, what happened in SD set the stage for laws that were being made on the federal level. And President Theodore Roosevelt even had to weigh on on the issue. Privately, TR wasn't against all Divorce. It was interesting to see what, mostly husband's, put women thru to get a divorce. These women had to move to Sioux Falls and live there for a time and be slandered by the press just to get their freedom.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Katie Buckingham

    This story follows some of the sensational divorces that occured in Sioux City when divorces were hard to attain. I had no idea that Sioux City was famous for its divorce laws and a wild west town for divorcees. The stories told were interesting but the sad part is, women still have the same difficulties to this day. Facing slander and negative public opinions for things that men do and people don't even blink. An interesting read and written in a way that holds the readers interest, which can b This story follows some of the sensational divorces that occured in Sioux City when divorces were hard to attain. I had no idea that Sioux City was famous for its divorce laws and a wild west town for divorcees. The stories told were interesting but the sad part is, women still have the same difficulties to this day. Facing slander and negative public opinions for things that men do and people don't even blink. An interesting read and written in a way that holds the readers interest, which can be hard in the non fiction niche.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    Within the last year I have read The Social Graces, Vanderbilt, The Magnolia Palace, and The Last Castle. When I saw The Divorce Colony reviewed in a magazine, I thought it sounded interesting and could not wait to read it. Although I knew the time period that the book covered, I did not realize that some of the cases the author discusses would be connected to the Gilded Age as well. While reading this book I often referred back to the history found in the others to get more background. April Wh Within the last year I have read The Social Graces, Vanderbilt, The Magnolia Palace, and The Last Castle. When I saw The Divorce Colony reviewed in a magazine, I thought it sounded interesting and could not wait to read it. Although I knew the time period that the book covered, I did not realize that some of the cases the author discusses would be connected to the Gilded Age as well. While reading this book I often referred back to the history found in the others to get more background. April White has done an excellent job of giving the history of not only divorce but also of the time. The book is fascinating, informative, and very thought-provoking in the weeks following the overturning of Roe vs. Wade.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Melissa

    Thank you so much to Hachette for a free copy in exchange for a review! The Divorce Colony goes in depth about women in the late 19th century attempting to get a divorce. With such a deeply researched book, it’s bound to draw in readers everywhere!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Emma

    Contrary to the tagline, this book is more about the 4 women it profiles than the landscape they operated in. Would have liked more about how the system was “revolutionized” rather than the woes of the rich few. Not a bad book, just not what it was marketed as.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nadine

    Initially interesting but a bit too much obscure detail - by going case by case it became a bit repetitious- maybe doing it thematically would have been more interesting - definitely outrage worthy - to see how complicit brothers & fathers were in the fate of women who were emotionally/physically & financially abused!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    A look at the divorce process in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s America. Somewhat interesting but not very entertaining. I didn’t come away feeling like I knew much more about any of these women.

  23. 5 out of 5

    R

    Interesting and historical. Loved learning about laws and how they evolve over the years and the differences at the federal and state levels. Told in narratives of divorce seekers in the late 1890s to early 1900s traveling to South Dakota, White intersperses the history of divorce and the implications it had on other states and countries. Includes an epilogue and author’s detailed notes of references.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Anne

    This was an informative book but felt like it was only for a narrow audience. I would’ve liked to have heard from different perspectives and experiences that were not from white and upper class women. Especially the native viewpoint since this took place in Sioux Falls South Dakota that sits on the ancestral lands of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (https://native-land.ca/mapbox-map/). The book was a bit of a slog to get through with a lot of unnecessary details. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for sen This was an informative book but felt like it was only for a narrow audience. I would’ve liked to have heard from different perspectives and experiences that were not from white and upper class women. Especially the native viewpoint since this took place in Sioux Falls South Dakota that sits on the ancestral lands of Očhéthi Šakówiŋ (https://native-land.ca/mapbox-map/). The book was a bit of a slog to get through with a lot of unnecessary details. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for sending me an arc!

  25. 4 out of 5

    Valerie

    Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Before reading this book, I had no idea that such a thing as the South Dakota "Divorce Colony" existed. The title intrigued me and I ended up learning a lot about marriage and divorce laws in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This book tells the stories of several women and their time spent in the Colony, usually citing primary sources such as diaries Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review! Before reading this book, I had no idea that such a thing as the South Dakota "Divorce Colony" existed. The title intrigued me and I ended up learning a lot about marriage and divorce laws in the United States in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This book tells the stories of several women and their time spent in the Colony, usually citing primary sources such as diaries, correspondence, and legal documentation. Th0ugh this was an interesting book filled with lots of fascinating information on an issue so important to women's lives, I did wish that the thesis of the book was woven into each story better and reinforced with a longer epilogue or final chapter.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Steve's Book Stuff

    April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota. Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it. Laws around divo April White’s The Divorce Colony is set during the Gilded Age, in the America of the late 1800s. It revolves around the lax divorce rules then to be found in South Dakota. Today, getting divorced is almost easier than getting married. But in the Gilded Age, divorces were not so easy to obtain. Divorce was viewed as a moral concern for the state, and was denounced from the pulpit for threatening the sanctity of marriage. Even President Theodore Roosevelt spoke out against it. Laws around divorce tended to be most lax on the frontiers of the United States. By the 1880s the territory of Dakota gained the dubious honor of posting the largest rise in divorces in the country. At the turn of the century one city - Sioux Falls, South Dakota - gained a reputation for having the laxest divorce laws of all, and required only a three month residency in order to take advantage of them. Those who came to Sioux Falls (mostly women) seeking to escape their marriages became known as the Divorce Colony. White takes us through the stories of four well-known women of the day in their journey seeking divorce in Sioux Falls. Because of their high social status, and their wealth (or the wealth of the family they had married into), their stories were closely followed by the press of the day. Because of that, these women stand in for us for the hundreds of other “colonists” whose stories are no longer easily uncovered. In White’s hands the stories of these four women - Maggie, Mary, Blanche and Flora, along with that of the good Reverend Dr. Hare - come together in Sioux Falls to give us a history on the attitudes toward divorce and how they have changed. This is a really well done narrative nonfiction. White resurrects a forgotten history as she tells the stories of the four women, and how they came to be seeking divorce. She also has uncovered and discusses their connections to one another and to other “colonists”, some of whom get shorter stories of their own in the book. Of the four stories, I felt those of Maggie and Blanche worked best, Mary's less so, while Flora’s story seemed in comparison to be less detailed and less interesting. This is a great summer read, as it’s a book you can easily pick up and read in sections and then come back to later without losing the thread. NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley and Hachette Books. I am voluntarily providing this review. The book will be available to the public on June 14, 2022.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Kelly

    As The Divorce Colony takes a more intimate look at the dissolution of marriage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it still feels very timely in light of the possibility of the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and how an overturn could effect government’s authority into the personal lives of private citizens. In many regards, this book feels like a start to the whole issue, looking at the lives of four women that are unhappy in their marriages and want divorces. In this time period, p As The Divorce Colony takes a more intimate look at the dissolution of marriage in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, it still feels very timely in light of the possibility of the overturn of Roe vs. Wade and how an overturn could effect government’s authority into the personal lives of private citizens. In many regards, this book feels like a start to the whole issue, looking at the lives of four women that are unhappy in their marriages and want divorces. In this time period, pretty much the only way most people can get a divorce is by demonstrating adultery. But in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, anyone can request a divorce, as long as they’ve established residency. Several men avail themselves of the opportunity but the large majority are women. One could suppose that remaining in a marriage affects both partners equally, but in this time period women had few rights; they could have their finances controlled by spouses that bled money, their children were generally considered property of their spouse, they could be physically abused or humiliated in society. None of these things were considered grounds for divorce in most states. It’s somewhat disappointing to see many of the women remarrying so quickly after having divorces granted, and then I have to remind myself that almost all of these women had no means to support themselves, because most women didn’t or weren’t allowed to work, and hiring a divorcée would have been considered unacceptable. Women have so many more doors open to them today, but things are still not equal- religious leaders and government leaders still want to control the choices that individuals make. And in a reflection of today and the battles being fought, the primary opponents to the right to divorce on grounds other than adultery are with one exception, men, led by Bishop Hare, who makes it his life’s mission to not just convince members of the Episcopal Church but members of Congress to disallow the end of marriages by anything other than death. It’s easy to stand in judgment when the consequences don’t require nearly the same level of sacrifice, a battle these four women fight to win, mainly for themselves but ultimately for those who want to have their voices heard on how they live their lives.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Susan

    In the aftermath of the shocking (and misguided) overturn of Roe v. Wade, I found this book surprisingly relevant to current events though it has nothing to do with abortion and the action took place over a century ago. At stake, then and now, were/are people's rights to self-determination, whether it be their relationships or their reproductive rights. I say people, rather than just women, because Clarence Thomas has openly said that the decision in Dobbs paves the way to re-examine the questio In the aftermath of the shocking (and misguided) overturn of Roe v. Wade, I found this book surprisingly relevant to current events though it has nothing to do with abortion and the action took place over a century ago. At stake, then and now, were/are people's rights to self-determination, whether it be their relationships or their reproductive rights. I say people, rather than just women, because Clarence Thomas has openly said that the decision in Dobbs paves the way to re-examine the question of gay marriage and interracial marriage. That affects everyone. All of us. Dry legal arguments described in the book, such as the fights over whether a divorce decree in one state was legal in another state, suddenly took on new meaning. And it's a reminder that the Supreme Court, historically speaking, is made up of fallible individuals who can be swayed by politics, money, the media, etc. And that their decisions are not necessarily a forever thing. The audiobook was a fascinating listen, on multiple levels. I found each of the women featured to be interesting, but also I could not help laughing, cringing, and rolling my eyes over and over by some of the extremely conservative, Victorian attitudes. Divorce was shocking! It was the death of the American family! Etc etc. Yet it's not a great leap of the imagination to look at where we are in 2022, hearing the small minority of extremely loud right-wing voices trying to take us over and force the rest of us to live according to their narrow worldviews. As the author says in the interview at the end, ultimately, the book is about American culture wars over people's rights. What is the role of the government in legislating how people live their private lives? Obviously this is not a settled question.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Paula

    This was interesting in that the book showed the divisive attitudes towards divorce in the US. And how certain states had laws that were more open to allowing divorce than others. The book shows through four different women how each obtained a divorce when such a thing was almost unheard of, and certainly frowned upon. Often leaving the divorcee shunned by former friends and relatives, sometimes even going to live abroad. And like everything, even in those days, it was the wealthiest social class This was interesting in that the book showed the divisive attitudes towards divorce in the US. And how certain states had laws that were more open to allowing divorce than others. The book shows through four different women how each obtained a divorce when such a thing was almost unheard of, and certainly frowned upon. Often leaving the divorcee shunned by former friends and relatives, sometimes even going to live abroad. And like everything, even in those days, it was the wealthiest social class that had access and the means to obtain divorces. And where did they go to get their divorces? South Dakota. And what brought everyone there were multiple railroad lines. And what followed were towns that then catered to the prospective divorcees, meeting all their needs with hotels, entertainment, rental homes, transportation, places to eat, judges and lawyers, etc, because there was a long waiting period in which the person had to establish residency. And the ensuing fights began over whether a divorce granted in South Dakota would be recognized in the various states. Some states did not recognize the decrees and if the persons remarried, they were considered bigamists. Then there were the various churches that took a dim view of divorce in general, and arguments among the various men of God over whether to help or shun these people arriving to obtain divorces. The arguments on all levels went on for years, all in all not unlike the fights over various social issues today. But it was enlightening to read about how the issue of divorce grew into a national issue from one state's acceptance of it.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Steph

    “They had rising ideals and a new vision for marriage, and for each of them, divorce was a declaration of independence .” Sioux Falls, SD was the divorce capital of America in the late 1800’s. Requiring just 90 days to get residency, it provided a speedy option for wealthy women (and men) to end their marriages. The grand hotel, Cataract House, served as the unofficial lodgings of the Divorce Colony, as Sioux Falls came to be known. This non-fiction account follows 4 of the most famous women to se “They had rising ideals and a new vision for marriage, and for each of them, divorce was a declaration of independence .” Sioux Falls, SD was the divorce capital of America in the late 1800’s. Requiring just 90 days to get residency, it provided a speedy option for wealthy women (and men) to end their marriages. The grand hotel, Cataract House, served as the unofficial lodgings of the Divorce Colony, as Sioux Falls came to be known. This non-fiction account follows 4 of the most famous women to seek divorces in Sioux Falls: Maggie De Stuers, Mary Nevins Blaine, Blanche Molineaux, and Flora Bigelow Dodge. These names aren’t familiar to us now, but in the 1890s they were tabloid celebrities. They each had their own reasons for seeking their freedom, but they all decided to pursue their independence despite harsh societal judgment. I really enjoyed this book. The author did a great job of using each woman’s story to illustrate the broader laws (and cultural stigma) surrounding divorce in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Especially now, it’s important to read about these brave women who pursued, and fought for, their personal freedom. Thanks to @netgalley and @hatchettebooks for the eARC!

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