100 Years Ago, No One Was Divorced in Jimmy Carter’s Town

At least, he wasn’t aware of anyone who was

Tucker Lieberman
2 min readMay 20, 2024

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orange-handled scissors cutting up a marriage certificate and an orange rose
Divorce by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

“By the time I went away to college, no one in Plains had ever been divorced,” wrote Jimmy Carter in his memoir, An Hour Before Daylight. “As far as we were concerned, divorce was a sin against God committed only in Hollywood and among some of the more irresponsible New Yorkers.”

Carter was born in 1924. He’s describing his small town near Plains, Georgia, up to 1941 when he went off to college and the Navy.

Maybe some people who had divorced somewhere else did come to Plains to restart their lives, and the neighborhood kids didn’t find out. Seems possible to me, but I’m not the authority here.

Carter describes the dominant religious perspective as he understood it:

“The oath given during the marriage ceremony was considered to be inviolable, based on the words of Christ himself, who, when questioned about marriage, referred to the first binding of Adam and Eve: ‘For this cause, a man shall leave his father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and the two shall become one flesh. Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”

In Plains, sometimes a married person would even begin living with a new partner, yet neither spouse sought a legal divorce — implying that the social prohibition against divorce was effectively “considered to have priority over the one against adultery,” as Carter put it. Everyone would realize what was going on “when both the adulterers would quietly cease attending church services.”

He was aware of one “totally harmonious arrangement” in which

“two husbands simply swapped wives and a total of nine children. Perhaps to minimize false rumors, one of the husbands came over to our house and described their decision to my father. Other children were born to the new couples, and the resulting common-law marriages remained intact thereafter, but the parents stopped going to church.”

Maybe those people were happy with their kinship structure and didn’t feel the need to divorce their old partners. Or maybe they would have preferred a divorce so they could remarry their new partners.

In any case, these days, people do get divorced in Georgia. They can write a legal agreement about how they’ll parent and when they’ll exchange their children from one house to the other. There’s literally an app for that.

A lot of things have changed. How much the world has changed in the last 100 years is a perspective that Jimmy Carter’s memoir gives me afresh.

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Tucker Lieberman

Editor for Prism & Pen. Author of the novel "Most Famous Short Film of All Time." https://tuckerlieberman.com/