Wild Bill Donovan isn’t a character out of the wild, wild west. He’s a real life spymaster. He was a decorated WWI veteran and the only American to be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, Distinguished Service Cross, Distinguished Service Medal with two oak-leaf clusters, and two Purple Hearts. During World War II, William J. Donovan headed the newly created Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Under Donovan’s leadership, OSS became the first modern American intelligence agency and model for the future Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
While Donovan was leading wartime intelligence operations overseas, he also served as a courier between Millicent Fenwick and her estranged husband, Hugh Fenwick, who like, Donovan was based in Europe. It was through him that Millicent sent Hugh a letter asking for a divorce, “I am finally writing the letter I know you have been expecting for some time. After a great deal of thought … I have come to the conclusion that we had better get a divorce … Will you ask your lawyer here to get in touch with Colonel William J. Donovan, whom I have consulted in this matter. This has not been an easy decision to make. Do let me hear from you as soon as you can. Painful things are better over quickly.”
Donovan, like Hugh Fenwick, was also a ladies man. And his dalliances are included in a new book, Wild Bill Donovan: The Spymaster who Created the OSS and Modern American Espionage. This week author Doug Waller, spoke at the Cosmos Club, and was asked about Donovan’s marriage. Donovan’s wife, Ruth, treated “marriage like a business, you don’t break a contract,” said Waller.
Millicent was not willing to do that and went against the convention of the day. She divorced. In her time of need she turned to Wild Bill. Fenwick wasn’t his only divorce client. While running a wartime espionage operation, Donovan managed to find time to represent several high society women in their divorces including Helen Astor who divorced Vincent Astor. Donovan “always charm[ed] the aggrieved wife with his empathy,” said Waller. Until this week, I didn’t realize Millicent Fenwick was one of several divorce clients that Donovan represented. Who knew he had a niche business on the side. One can hardly imagine Petraeus negotiating divorces during a time of war.