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"D" is for Divorce

South Carolina From A to Z
SC Public Radio

"D" is for Divorce. Except for a brief period from 1872 to 1878, South Carolina was the only state in the union that prohibited divorce. The opposition to divorce stemmed from the citizenry’s strong disapproval of government interference in any “domestic institution.” Although divorce was forbidden, South Carolinians were not exempt from desertions, bigamy, abusive marriages, adulterous relationships, and illegitimate children. Desertion functioned as a de facto divorce. While it was only a legal mirage that South Carolina marriages never deteriorated because the state provided no legal mechanism for their dissolution, it was an illusion that mattered to many. With pressure from a changing world after World War II, South Carolina amended the Constitution in 1949 and the legislature enacted a law permitting divorce on four grounds: adultery, desertion, physical cruelty, and habitual drunkenness.

Dr. Walter Edgar has two programs on South Carolina Public Radio: Walter Edgar's Journal, and South Carolina from A to Z. Dr. Edgar receivedhisA.B.degreefromDavidson College in 1965 and his Ph.D. from the University of South Carolina in 1969. After two years in the army (including a tour of duty in Vietnam), he returned to USC as a post-doctoral fellow of the National Archives, assigned to the Papers of Henry Laurens.