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A Front Page Divorce

At one time Fargo was known as the divorce capitol of the West. Plenty of lawyers, easy divorce laws, and elegant hotels attracted the wealthy who could afford to travel to end a marriage. South Dakota also had easy divorce laws, and it was in 1901 that Manhattan playboy Freddie Gebhardt hosted a lavish dinner at the Cataract House Hotel in Sioux Falls to celebrate his divorce. Guests enjoyed a four-course dinner of seafood, beef and bison, and a wide variety of exotic wines all served by waiters in formal attire.

Both North and South Dakota had well-recognized reputations for easy divorces. This apparently led to some confusion on the part of out-of-staters who were not entirely familiar with the American West. On this date in 1906, several newspapers reported on a celebrity divorce that took place in Yankton, which they identified as being in North Dakota.

According to the Hawaiian Star of Honolulu, Martha Hichborn Blaine finalized her divorce in Yankton, North Dakota. She had been separated for three years from James G. Blaine, Jr., the son of a former Secretary of State and failed presidential candidate. Martha’s father was a Rear Admiral in the United States Navy. The divorce was of special interest to Hawaiians as Martha was a well-known resident of Honolulu.

The divorce was all the more newsworthy because Blaine had divorced his first wife, actress Marie Nevins. The newspapers said he “married and deserted Marie.” They divorced after six years. His marriage to Martha lasted only five years. He went on to marry again and his third wife survived him after his death.

Blaine’s personal life was of such interest that the story wound up on the pages of newspapers all around the world. But perhaps of greater interest to North Dakotans was the misidentification of Yankton as a North Dakota town. The Hawaiian Star was not the only newspaper to place Yankton in the wrong state. The Pacific Commercial Advertiser and the Hawaiian Gazette made the same error.

In spite of newspaper reports to the contrary, Yankton remained firmly located in South Dakota.

Dakota Datebook by Carole Butcher

Sources:

Hawaiian Star. “Mrs. Blaine Gets a Divorce.” Honolulu, Oahu. 12/23/1906. Page 12.

Pacific Commercial Advertiser. “Blaine’s Wife Secures a Divorce.” 12/23/1906. Honolulu, Hawaiian Islands. Page 1.

Hawaiian Gazette. “Blaine’s Wife Secures a Divorce.” 12/26/1906. Honolulu, Oahu. Page 1.

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