Tort Tales, Gold Diggers, and the Crusade against Heart Balm

Previously posted at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/0363199020937761?ai=2b4&mi=ehikzz&af=R

Journal of Family History, Ahead of Print.
Beginning in the early 1930s, US citizens made a concerted effort to ban lawsuits for breach of promise, seduction, criminal conversation, and alienation of affection. By 1940, ten states had outlawed so-called heart balm torts. Yet there is no empirical evidence that rates of heart balm lawsuits were increasing. This article analyzes 1930s media representations to show how the movement against heart balm grew from “tort tales” about allegedly outrageous lawsuits. Heart balm narratives drew from stylized representations of “gold diggers” found in popular culture, and they reflected divisions around gender and social class exacerbated by the Great Depression.