Marriage & Divorce in the 1920s

written by Lee Strauss | Ginger Gold Mysteries

April 6, 2018

What was it like to Marry and Divorce in the 1920s?

During the 1920s there was more money and more social freedom, especially for women, than ever before. It was the age of revolution for housewives and flappers alike. Employment opportunities enabled women to gain more financial independence and emboldened them to view themselves as being more than just wives and mothers.

Women were determined to have a voice and to speak for themselves, at the polls, in their workplaces and also in their marriages. As a result, the 1920s saw a time of decreased marriage rates and a spike in divorce. Many young women chose to remain single for longer than their mothers had.

1920s marriage and divorce
1920s marriage and divorce

Even after gaining voting rights, women were not on equal footing with men in virtually all other areas of life. Married women were expected to devote themselves to running the household, raising children and to acquiesce to their husbands’ judgment. Employers had the right to fire women after they married or had children. Single women, whether divorced or widowed, also faced many challenges. Male co-signers were required for unmarried women to make any credit application.

Although divorce was more attainable in the 1920s than it had been in previous decades, it still carried a heavy stigma. There were few legal resources or options for women who were stuck in abusive relationships. Divorce was only allowed in situations where there was adultery, although exceptions were made in cases of bigamy or impotence.

Couples who wished to divorce had to present their cases to the court and provide evidence of one of the partner’s infidelity or wrongdoing. In cases of divorce, women had fewer rights and had to prove that they were of sound mind if they wished to gain custody of their children. It was not uncommon for a divorced woman to be left with very few resources after a divorce.

1920s marriage and divorce

Despite the lengthy legalities, the divorce rate steadily climbed throughout the twenties at a seemingly shocking rate for the time. Many critics feared that the institution of marriage and family was in danger. Early feminists, flappers, and ‘loose morals’ were blamed. To combat the increasing number of divorces, the early beginnings of marriage counseling and prenuptial contracts were developed.

Given the cultural climate of her time, Ginger Gold is a remarkable woman, although not without her flaws. Like many of her peers, Ginger protests the social limitations bestowed upon women of her status. Rather than quickly remarrying as might be expected, Ginger is determined to support herself by starting a dress shop called ‘Feathers & Flair.’ I love her feisty spirit and determination to make her own choices, even while paying the price for it at times.

Did you learn something new? Write me a note to let me know.


Books from the Era

If you enjoy historical fiction I think you’ll love my cozy mystery series 

set in the 1920s, 30s, and 50s. 

I hope you'll give them a try!

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  1. That was a wonderfully precise characterization of women (in general) of the 1920s. But I’m hoping that you could direct me to some primary sources. Can you share with me where you got some of your information from? I am especially interested in divorce rates and divorce situation. In particular I’m looking at a couple where the moon wanted to see the woman for desertion. So the woman actually deserted the man? I’m trying to find out how common that might’ve been. Thank you very much for any help you can offer.

  2. Wow. My mother told me my grandmother eloped (in 1930) because she would lose her job if anyone found out she got married but I wondered if that was true. I have since found out my grandfather had been married previously and had a son…and married my grandmother under a false name. After reading your article, I now know that my grandmother really could have lost her job had she not married in secret. I also know that it was probably extremely costly for my grandfather to get a divorce, and he and his first wife chose to go their separate ways (both under false names, by the way.) THANK YOU for clearing that up for me!


  4. Wow, I didn’t realize it took so long for divorce to become a thing in the states. I knew about the struggles and am so happy that it isn’t as difficult these days or as frowned upon.

  5. My great-great grandmother was divorced during the 20s because she was married to an abusive alcoholic. I can still remember how bitter my grandmother sounded telling me about her grandmother. The church had kicked her out instead of supporting her, did nothing to help when she was homeless and penniless, but still came around to collect money and food donations every week for services she wasn’t allowed to attend! I’m so grateful that and many other things have changed for the better.

  6. I don’t think I could have made it back then with all of those restrictions on women. But I think I’m very much like a woman of that time. I married when I was 18. But when it didn’t work out I divorced 7 years later and I’ve never remarried. I went on to raise our kids on my own, buy us a house when I was 25, get 3 degrees and achieve what I wanted without a husband. I never had another joint account again! So I thank these ladies for blazing the trails for the women today to be able to have these choices now.

  7. I found it interesting that women could only be granted divorce on grounds of bigamy and impotence. How would a woman prove her husband was impotent, not omnipotent? LOL

  8. I wonder since it is easier to get a divorce and even have a child outside a marriage if that hurt couple’s relationships…

  9. That was and still is, fundamentally unfair! I just get mad thinking about it.
    That your rights as a person is controlled by what others dictate according to their socially created whims based on the sex that you were born.

  10. That was interesting. My grandparents were divorced in the 1920’s and I never understood what their life was like a little better.

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