The divorce of a British Earl in 1901 brought Reno international attention for easy divorces.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Nevada’s divorce laws required six months to establish state residency and offered seven grounds for divorce. The state’s liberal divorce laws and ease for establishing residency drew interest across the world, including a British Earl hoping to be remarried. John Francis Stanley Russell’s migration to Nevada sparked an international reputation for the budding divorce industry. Russell was a member of the House of Lords and a member of British royalty. He arrived in Glenbrook, Nevada in 1899 with Mollie Somerville. He and Mollie maintained a six-month state residency in the Glenbrook House on Lake Tahoe.
Six months later, in the spring of 1900, the Earl received his divorce. Judge Ben Curler served as the judge for Russell’s divorce in the city of Genoa. The judge then accompanied the couple to Reno where the trio ventured to Riverside Hotel. Three days after the Earl’s April 12th divorce, Curler officiated the wedding of Mollie Somerville and Earl Russell. After the marriage, the newlyweds returned to England where legal trouble ensued.
In 1895, before the Earl’s divorce migration, his first wife Mabel had sought judicial separation from the Earl which was denied her but eventually granted to the Earl as he brought up charges against his wife. Though legally separated, the two were not divorced in England’s eyes. This difference of legality between countries sparked intrigue to the efficacy of Nevada divorces.
While Russell’s Nevadan divorce was not recognized, his Nevada marriage to Mollie was recognized. The Earl was arrested for bigamy on June 17, 1900. He was tried before the House of Lords, the chamber of Parliament of which he was part, and sat before his peers in judgement. The American judge who ruled Russell’s divorce and married the two divorcees in Nevada, Judge Curler, was summoned to England to testify for the prosecution. Russell pleaded guilty to the charges and was sentenced to three months in prison. For the rest of his life, Russell worked to reform British divorce laws though he would not see his advocacy realized. In part due to the legal attention of an imprisoned English Lord, Russell’s global migration for divorce cast the eyes of the world to Reno’s tolerant divorce laws and this media attention served as a catalyst to the emerging divorce haven.