A Reno judge witnessed and shaped the evolution of the Nevada divorce haven.
Reno’s honorable Judge Bartlett presided over divorce proceedings and served as and attorney in the early 20th century. Bartlett was revered by his clients and received heavy criticism for his role in Reno divorces. Through his books and his presence in the community and the courtroom, Bartlett serves as an iconic symbol of Reno divorce.
George Arthur Bartlett was born in 1869, graduated from Georgetown Law in 1894, and became a district attorney of Eureka County in 1899. He also married Pearl Gates in 1899 and joined the marital institution he would later criticize.
After serving as district attorney, he represented Nevada as a House Representative in 1907. He served as a representative until 1911 and then worked as a law partner.
Bartlett first became a judge in 1918. He served in the district courts for decades where he caused Nevada’s divorce proceedings to become more lenient. As a judge, he is most widely associated with divorce, but he also married couples. After marrying a couple, he was known to ask the groom, “How much is she worth to you?” The groom might hand the judge all the money in his pockets and the judge would give that money to the bride. Judge Bartlett’s unique approach became iconic. However, in 1931, he was replaced by Judge Ben Curler after controversy over a child custody case cost him the election.
After years on the bench of the district court, Bartlett wrote a book drawing from his experience as a judge. His book “Men, Women, and Conflict” sparked controversy in questioning the efficacy of marriage. Bartlett republished the book in 1947 under a more provocative title, “Is Marriage Really Necessary?”
When he lost his seat as district judge, Bartlett turned to private practice. Through his experience as both judge and attorney in Reno, Nevada, Judge Bartlett was the divorce expert for the nation. He received streams of letters from potential divorcees asking for advice, from children pleading for the judge not to allow their parents’ divorce, and criticism for his liberal views.
Judge Bartlett’s clients often felt a strong sense of endearment to the man as evidenced by letters from high profile clients such as Tellulah Bankhead. He continued practicing law for decades and was practicing law at the time of his death.
The local newspapers reported the 81-year-old’s fall which broke his hip in March 1951. This article was followed by his obituary a few months later. He died on June 1, 1951 as a judge, attorney, U.S. representative, husband and father.
It appears Bartlett was a family man. His daughter Dorothy offered housing accommodations to his clients seeking residency. He was known to host gatherings in his home and walk his red setter dog around the town. Although he wrote criticisms of marriage and helped with the dissolution of countless marriages, Bartlett remained married to Pearl throughout his life.