Divorce Raids

Divorce raids were a staple of the Amsterdam News throughout the 1920s, and featured a cross section of respectable Harlem, from physicians, dentists, attorneys, insurance agents, musicians and bandleaders, to clergymen, prominent lodge members, churchgoers, and individuals simply identified as “well-known Harlemites,” caught throughout the neighborhood in bed with people other than their spouses.  Private detectives, most notably the West Indian Herbert Boulin, led the raiding parties, which consisted of the aggrieved spouses and several friends and relatives, brought along as witnesses who could provide testimony of the adultery they witnessed.  Many of the couples involved were already separated; what was at issue was alimony, which one party either wished to obtain or avoid paying.

Divorce Raids (Search Event type = Divorce Raids)
Divorce Raids (Search Event type = Divorce Raids)

The raids take place at addresses scattered throughout the neighborhood, but concentrated in the areas of better housing, particularly on the western boundary of Harlem.  This pattern is made more obvious if prostitution arrests are overlaid on the map: there are no raids in the slum district west of Lenox Avenue in which prostitution arrests are concentrated.  If that juxtaposition, on the one hand, highlights a class based distinction in the sexual geography of Harlem, on the other hand it shows that illicit sexuality was not limited to one part of the neighborhood, but instead took different forms in different places.

Divorce Raids & Prostitution arrests, 1925 & 1930
Divorce Raids & Prostitution arrests, 1925 & 1930
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