The legitimate men's/fathers’ movement grew from early efforts at divorce reform. Its largest constituency remains in that field. Organized divorce reform began in 1906 when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle founded the Divorce Law Reform Union in England. It is still in existence. In those days, the pendulum was at the other extreme, women were oppressed, so its intention was to protect them.
In America, organized reform began for men in the 1800s with small groups scattered about. The National Sociological League was perhaps the earliest large organization. In 1931 its Executive Director, Dr. Alexander Dallek, claimed 25,000 members, from every state in the union. They attacked shotgun marriages and unreasonable child support (which in those days actually was child support, not disguised alimony). In 1932 an organization called The Family Protection League lobbied state legislatures. No details of its demise are recorded.
In 1960 Reuben Kidd and George Partis formed “Divorce Racket Busters” in Sacramento, California. After coming to national prominence in 1961, the name changed to United States Divorce Reform Inc. (U.S.D.R.). Its Board of Directors was Reuben Kidd, George Partis, Jay Burchett, Dr. Winterfield, and John Cooper. By 1963 USDR's active membership roster had grown to 2,000 members.
USDR's prime focus was modernization of California state divorce laws by replacing divorce courts with “Family Arbitration Centers.” The effort was entitled the "Sitton-Winterfield Initiative." It never obtained the necessary signatures to qualify on the ballot for the November 1966 elections.
Following is the recollection in August 2002 by one of the founders of USDR, Jay Burchett: “We got together in the year of 1960 and part of our strategy was to confront the courts and we believed the best way was to run for the state legislature. Eight of us ran in 1962 and again in 1964. There were two lawyers, one MD, one DDS, four teachers. I went on sabbatical leave on a journey around the world, mostly for engineering info. But I found that most of the world was open for law reform where lawyers could be throttled. I was welcomed in almost all of the countries and the European press gave a lot of space to my efforts. I tape-interviewed the heads of state and used much of the info in the 1964 campaign. Finally we caught the attention of Assemblyman Pearce Young who also believed we should not allow lawyers to destroy our families with the adversary proceedings. Finally after demonstrating in front of court houses all over the states, Young got his bill to stop the lawyers from taking all of the assets from both parents, split the property down the middle and let the parents people have the rest. He got it before the Assembly and in Jan 1970 it was passed. This caught on in 49 states and stopped the rate increase at about back to 45% but reduced murder-suicide considerably.”
Although the concentration on California's laws may have been practical, a “shake-down cruise” to prepare for taking on all states’ laws, non-Californians became restless, and began falling away. Parochial interests developed. Themselves seemingly afflicted with the divorce syndrome, various factions began feuding and broke off to form their own splinter groups. Separate organizations sprung up everywhere. There are now several hundred, with varying degrees of legitimacy. Most are mere mutual commiseration societies, without strong leadership.
In 1970, in an effort to unify these discordant elements and groups, your author formed CADRE (Coalition of American Divorce Reform Elements). Beginning February 13, 1971, three incorporation conventions were held in the Elgin, Illinois area, attended by heads of most divorce reform organizations in the country. Unfortunately it did not fly.
To interest potential supporters including philanthropic sources, it is necessary to demonstrate a viable, businesslike organization, together with a financial projection. A claque of compulsive reactionaries raised rancorous argument. Unable to visualize beyond the nickel and dime stage, dissenters opposed every expense from purchase of a typewriter to a salary for the Executive Director, apparently expecting to attract a man capable of taking on the Supreme Court itself with less pay than a janitor in that building. Objectors assumed the divorce racket and institutionalized prejudice could be defeated by part-time amateurs. Unable to grasp the difference between a projection and a financial statement, they insisted on having the money in hand before making plans for dispersal. This objection to planning, of course, prevented obtaining funds. The divisive elements immobilized the project, and it disintegrated into a Tower of Babel.
Some of the more cooperative leaders tried again in early 1977. That effort was called Men's Equality Now (M.E.N.) International. Unfortunately, the same type opposition arose, and again prevented progress. A veritable alphabet soup of rival and subsequent “coalitions” formed and largely died out. The latest, most credible attempt, still in its infancy, is Men/Fathers/Children International (MFCI).
Opponents of MEN International formed a rival coalition, the National Congress for Men (NCM. Now NCMC). Predictably, new coalitions have developed to rival it. The Children's Rights Council, based in Washington, DC, the American Father's Rights Council, an unincorporated association that met biannually in Las Vegas between 1992 and 1994, the Coalition of Free Men in New York, the Men's Health Network in Washington DC, and the short-lived Men's Education Network International are or were the major attempts at reorganization.
“A little learning is a dangerous thing.” With the advent of the Internet, it seems every guy who just discovered the injustice of divorce is broadcasting his limited knowledge of the issues and his often naïve notions of reform around the world via chat groups.