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New Jersey Man Ensures a Quick Divorce at the Last Possible Moment

The following story from “Fargo: From Frontier Village to All America City, 1875-2000,”  demonstrates the end of an era of lenient divorce laws for Fargo. Many fought to see an end to Fargo’s notoriety as the “divorce capital of the Midwest,” but there was a negative side, too. Fargo lost the revenues from a large number of people who established a three-month temporary residence in Fargo to fulfill the legal requirement prior to being granted a divorce. 

A New Jersey man was among the last to establish residence tor divorce in North Dakota under the 90-day statute.  There were over 40 saloons in Moorhead in which he may have boomed on the night of March 31,1899. Midnight was the deadline, the new law of the one year residence was effective April 1.

He had not entered Fargo as yet and consequently had not taken the first steps to establish residence or a divorce action. If he had gone to a Fargo hotel and registered his “legal residence” would have been accumulation around his name of the hotel register.

But the man from New Jersey slid off the train at Moorhead with only a few hours to “get in” under the new North Dakota law. Moorhead saloons were bright; the liquor was raw and the clock ticked on.

The town clock began to toll the passing of midnight and the last of the old North Dakota divorce regime.

Now, the man from New Jersey might have stretched his conscience to the matter of a few minutes, but to a mind affected by 40 saloons it seemed a matter of life or death to get into North Dakota before the clock finished striking.

He grabbed his suitcase in one hand and his hat in the other as he began a hot-foot dash across the bridge. Drivers of the “jag wagons” and some of the “sports” whom he had been treating followed in his wake to referee the New Jersey man’s spurt against time. Saloon keepers were craning their necks from doorways when they heard a whoop on the Fargo side of the Red River. The man from New Jersey had made it – and in the nick of time. His divorce now was only a question of three months and a day.[1]


[1] Kolness, John W. 2001. Fargo: From Frontier Village to All America City, 1875-2000. [Hendrum, Minn.]: Heritage Publications.

Scott Becklund is a senior at North Dakota State University majoring in history and minoring business. Following graduation, Scott hopes to pursue grad school with a career in law being his ultimate goal.

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