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A history of marriage

  1. 1. Advance praise for A History of Marriage"Can we really understand celibacy or mistresseswithout considering marriage, the socio-sexual bondthat convention tells us is the heart of love? ElizabethAbbotts new volume of accessible social historycompletes a sparkling trilogy about human intimacy.Her writing is as witty and informative as ever, hertone as wry and wise, and the value to understandingourselves as profound. No thoughtful person­married, celibate, unfaithful or otherwise-should bewithout this book. " -Mark Kingwell, author ofConcrete Reveries and Extraordinary Canadians: GlennGould"Whether you consider marriage a prison or aparadise, an outmoded institution or the culminationof all your white lacy dreams, Elizabeth Abbottsprobing history deftly shows how this always fragile,yet always resilient institution has evolved. Its notalways a pretty picture, but its a fascinating one." -Judith Timson, author of Family Matters"I love this book. Elizabeth Abbott is an engagingstory-teller. She wisely recognizes that we can onlyunderstand the changing meanings of marriage if wealso appreciate that what it means to live single haschanged dramatically, too. " -Bella DePaulo, authorof Singled Out"Elizabeth Abbott has penned a masterpiece . . . AHistory of Marriage is a wide-ranging account of howthe social intersects with many forms of the personal.An outstanding work that deserves as many readers
  2. 2. as can be found." -Ahmad Saidullah, author ofHappiness and Other Disorders"With her genius for the apt example and hercharacteristic wit and warmth, Elizabeth Abbottexpertly illuminates the lived experience of marriagepast and present, discovering, in the process, somesurprising parallels between the way we were and theway we are today, and offering suggestions to helpbolster tomorrows unions. Wide-ranging yetcohesive, sharply observed yet hopeful, A History ofMarriage, like the institution it animates, rewardscommitment. " -Susan Olding, author of Pathologies:A Life in Essays"Fascinating and utterly engrossing, ElizabethAbbotts book is crammed full of delicious morsels ofinformation about nuptials past and present. What wetake for granted as the immutable, eternal rituals ofromance and marriage arent that at all. You shouldsee how they did it in the past. Romance? Forget it. "-Maureen Jennings, author of the DetectiveMurdoch series"Like any marriage, this book is full of surprises.Elizabeth Abbotts take on the ties that bind so manyof us is lively and intelligent. A must-read." -Catherine Dunphy, author of Morgentaler: A DifficultHero
  3. 3. Praise for Elizabeth Abbotts other books"Ambitious . . . Her research is detailed and thorough.She is gifted at relating not just the triumphs andtragedies of those who lived centuries ago but also ingiving a sense of their daily lives. She makesus . . . hungry to know more about them." -TheColumbus Dispatch"Elizabeth Abbott mixes anthropology with history inher confection of insights . . . The pages of Abbottslucid, exciting book throb with both life and itsdenial . . . It is a strength of her moving and dazzlingachievement that Abbott is never conventional,preachy or platitudinous. Like all good history, herbook is a signpost to the strangeness of a world thathas such deviance in it. " -The Guardian"Entertaining, fascinating, and frequently disturbing. "-The Gazette (Montreal)"Ambitious and wide-ranging." -The New Yorker"A rich, dramatic, fascinating history." -The Globeand Mail"Here is history with a human face, effective,moving, written with surprising and admirablerestraint. " -Kirkus Reviews (starred)"This book is powerfully composed with a dense rushof events and documentation, the passion of personalfeeling, an outrage expressed in bitter irony." -LosAngeles Times
  4. 4. "Splendid, passionate . . . Elizabeth Abbott portrays adepth of misery and exploitation which, it might besaid without disrespect to Graham Greene, he wasonly able to hint at." -Newsday"Manag [es] to be both academic and entertaining."-Evening Standard"Abbott presents a fascinating panoply ofcharacters . . . [her] extensive research is impressive. "-Edmonton Journal"A juicy, brilliantly insightful survey-as readable asit is intellectually sophisticated, alternately witty andmoving." -Village Voice Literary Supplement"Once you begin this astonishing book, you are notlikely to put it down . . . She is an extraordinarilybrave woman with the talent to match her bravery. "-Eugene D. Genovese, author of Rol� Jordan, Roll:The World the Slaves Made
  6. 6. Copyright © 2010 by Elizabeth AbbottOriginally published in Canada by Penguin Group (Canada), 2010First US edition April 201 1All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced,stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by anymeans, including mechanical, electronic, photocopying,recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission ofthe publisher.Seven Stories Press1 40 Watts StreetNew York, NY 10013www.sevenstories.comCollege professors may order examination copies of Seven StoriesPress titles for a free six-month trial period. To order, visithttp://www.sevenstories.com/textbook or send a fax on schoolletterhead to (21 2) 226-1 4 1 1 .Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication DataeISBN: 978-1 -60980-085-7v3.1
  7. 7. To the memory of my father, Bill Abbott, who never doubted that he had hit the jackpot when he married Mamie Griggs, my mother.And to my beloved son and daughter-in-law, Ivan and Dina, for the joy of sharing your lives and for making me a grandmother.
  8. 8. ContentsCoverTitle PageCopyrightDedicationAcknowledgmentsPart 1 Marriage in History Introduction: The Way We (Really) Were 1 . Husbands and Wives-Who Were They? 2. Learning Marriage, Rites of Passage 3. Weddings and the Married State 4. Love and Sex in Marriage 5. Marriage from within Four Walls 6. Go Forth and Multiply: Children at the Heart of Marriage 7. When Things Went WrongPart 2 Marriage in the Present and Future Introduction: The Way We Think We Were and the Way We Think We Are 8. Unmarried and Often Single 9. A Gay Focus on the Nature of Marriage 10. Children and Parenting in Modern Marriages
  9. 9. 1 1 . For Richer or Poorer: Marriage and Money 12. Marriage and Race 13. Marriage Policies 14. Issues at the Heart of the Marriage DebateEpilogue: Stop SignNotesSelect BibliographyCreditsAbout the AuthorAbout the Publisher
  10. 10. AcknowledgmentsDuring my thirteen years as Dean of Women at theUniversity of Torontos Trinity College, I wrote AHistory of Celibacy and A History of Mistresses. In2004, I left my deanship to become a full-time writer.I detoured in subject matter, and Sugar: A BittersweetHistory appeared in 2008. I resumed my narrativetrajectory and, with A History of Marriage, havecompleted my historical relationship trilogy. Dreamscan come true, and I am most grateful to everyonewho helped me realize them. Andrea Magyar, editorial director of PenguinCanada, reined me in and gave Marriage its NorthAmerican orientation, for which I thank her. I thankher as well for putting me into the editorial hands ofHelen Smith, whose energy and enthusiasm arecontagious. And the droll animal images she implantsin emails always make me laugh, assuaging the stressof editorial demands and deadlines. For twenty-three years my agent, Heide Lange, hassupported my writing goals and sold my booksworldwide. I treasure our collaboration and am proudto be one of her authors. I loved the rigour and excellence of copy editorShaun Oakeys work on Sugar and am delighted thathe agreed to take on A History of Marriage as well.The "track changes" dialogue between us addedanother dimension to the revision process. Production editor David Ross has been wonderfullypatient and understanding of my vision of a narrativeenhanced by images.
  11. 11. Dr. David Reed, Professor Emeritus of PastoralTheology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto,gave generously of his time and expertise to critiqueseveral chapters. Tim Cook, a historian at the Canadian WarMuseum in Ottawa and winner of the 2009 CharlesTaylor Prize, did a critical reading of chapter 8 andprovided supplementary sources; thank you so much,Tim. Rev. William Craig, what would I do without youto tum to for that emergency Latin translation or thattheological nicety? Thank you, Bill! Listening to and questioning the manuscripts focusgroup was endlessly interesting, revelatory, and oftencathartic. Carol, Carolyn, Catharine, Elaine, Emily,Heather, Laura, LaTanya, Vivian, and everyone elsewho joined us: you are great readers and talkers, andI learned so much from each of you ! Viv, yourlawyerly perspective was invaluable. Karl J affary was a solo reader and gave valuablefeedback. Yves Pierre-Louis, my brother of the heart, read,critiqued, and directed me to new sources. LouiseAbbott, my flesh-and-blood sister, provided theimages of our parents wedding and of Mom as a tot. My son, Ivan, and my daughter-in-law, Dina,walked hand-in-hand with me throughout theresearch and writing, even as they became engaged,planned their Big Fat Greek Wedding, married,honeymooned, and settled into newlywed domesticlife. We will celebrate their third weddinganniversary cradling their newborn, due to be bornjust after this book is. Heather Conway never wilted under the onslaughtof TIFF and JPG files (and terrible deadlines); onceagain she worked her technological magic and
  12. 12. transformed them into the wonderful images I knewthey could become. Pegi Dover and Philip Jessup enriched this bookwith their family photograph. Carol McPhee and JonBankson helped me illustrate the intricacies ofmodern marriage with their joyous wedding portrait. LaTanya, Ashiyah, and Tyanna Abbott pitched inand made a scrap-book of the images I wasconsidering; thank you! Emily Griggs made time to help me with thebibliography; many thanks. Thanks to Elaine Wong, Mehran Ataee, MeraNirmalan-Nathan, Puj a Karmaker Mullins, RehaanaManek, Sophie Chung, Stephanie Creighton, andVizarath Ali for helping with research. Lastly, l owe a huge debt of gratitude to thepatrons of the Charles Taylor Prize for Literary Non­Fiction (2009). Through their graciousness andgenerosity in publicizing the short-listed books, theymade good on their promise that all three of us werewinners.
  13. 13. Part 1Marriage in History
  14. 14. Introduction The Way We (Really) WereIt is August 2009, and sunshine warms NathanPhillips Square, the concrete piazza in front ofTorontos City Hall that, on this autumnal Augustafternoon, is also a bridal path. The wedding party issmall: bride Heather and Greg her groom, theirparents, one aunt, two uncles, a cousin with hisfiancee, and a single friend. To the brisk beat of aduo of rappers entrancing their audience of clappingchildren, the celebrants stroll in pairs and trios pastThe Archer, Henry Moores masterful sculpture, up tothe solid block of doors that usher them into thesubdued stillness of weekend City Hall. The party squeezes into one elevator and exits onthe third floor, into the milling throng of anotherwedding party anxiously awaiting latecomers whoare delaying their ceremony. That bride is young andin full white regalia, her deep blue and blood-redshoulder tattoos a startling contrast to her floor­length strapless satin gown and pale floral bouquet.After the elevator disgorges two high-heeled,miniskirted women pushing babies in strollers, thegroup races into the wedding chamber, and Heatherand Gregs party sink into the vacated chairs. Heather glows in a shimmering grey sleevelesssummer dress accessorized with a shawl, severalpinkish necklaces and a silver bag (all borrowed),and new Payless slippers. Greg, florid with emotionand heat, wears a darker grey suit with a pink-striped
  15. 15. tie. They chat with their guests, and Greg remarks,sotto voce, that this is the first time in over a decadethat he has seen his mother and father in the sameroom. Everyone is relaxed and happy as they wait­not for long-until the previous wedding ends andone more new husband-and-wife file past to theelevator.After fourteen years of a marriage of true minds, Heather and Gregformalize their union with a city hall wedding. (photo credit co13.1)
  16. 16. Inside the chamber, to the strains of recordedclassical music, Heathers father and mother walk herup the narrow passageway that doubles as an aisle.The justice of the peace, imposing and priest-like inacademic gown, begins the brief but touching servicethat includes inquiring of the assembly whether theywill help Heather and Greg fulfill their marriagevows. Everyone nods and sits up straighter. They areno longer just witnesses. They have just beeninducted into the ceremony as participants. Greg faces Heather and, with a catch in his voice,recites his vows. "When I was a kid, my little sisterhad a T-shirt of a brontosaurus with a little girl ridingon his neck and a caption that read: He followed mehome, can I keep him? Im like that brontosaurusand I followed you home. And, my love, Im glad youkept me." Heather responds, her words thick with held-backtears: "Youre good with words. Im good withpictures. So I wont say anything, and Ill paint you apicture instead." The picture she describes is apanorama of their fourteen years together, andincludes two brown boxes filled with months of back­and-forth letters; a huge Thunder Bay sky filled withbubbles and lollipops; a skinny Victorian house full ofnail holes and groceries; two hound dogs at a beachwith shared ice cream; Las Vegas flamingos andenormous Chicago meals; duelling laptops playingfavourite songs in a city backyard; a newspaper witha hidden love note; an early bird and a night owl;hand-holding, quick smooches, and spooning. And then, her voice stronger, Heather completesher vows: "Ill paint a plane flying to an unknowncountry to find an unknown child. Ill paint a happypast, a wonderful present, and an exciting future. Illpaint fourteen years of loving a man who is my
  17. 17. husband and my best friend. And with all thattogether, Ill be painting you and me. " I weep (for I am the friend honoured to share thisritual), and around me so do most of the others. Soonafter, the justice smiles and waves us off. "Thats it, "he declares. "Now youre really married." We leave, and in a convoy of taxis proceed to theVictorian house where Heather and Greg plan to loveand raise the unknown child from an unknowncountry that, their adoption agency has advisedthem, releases its orphans only to formally marriedcouples. There, in their spacious garden lit by candlesin wrought-iron lanterns, they also welcomeneighbours and friends invited to celebrate this mosttraditional of occasions: a marriage rooted in theirmutual longing to raise children together. During the several years I have been working onthis book about marriage, I have attended severalweddings: my sons, my brothers, former students,and most recently Heather and Gregs. Our societysconstant lament that marriage is a doomed institutionis at odds with the reality that, at some point, most ofus marry, and often remarry. As I researched andorganized my material, I was constantly struck byhow much has changed over the years-and evenmore so by how much more remains unchanged. A History of Marriage is the third of the trilogy thatA History of Celibacy introduced and A History ofMistresses continued, the sweeping story of how menand women have related to each other over thecenturies. But unlike A History of Celibacy and AHistory of MistressesJ A History of Marriage is restrictedto the North American historical experience and itsmostly European antecedents. In this book I alsostrive to explain and contextualize the state ofmarriage today, and to identify and discuss the issuesmost important to how it is developing. The sub text
  18. 18. of A History of Marriage, in other words, is theconnection between the past and the present, whereweve been and where that has led us. Heather and Greg epitomize this subtext. At thetime of their marriage, they had lived together forfourteen years, for the last ten of those in a spacious,leaf-shaded Victorian home in a neighbourhood richin dogs, including their two hounds, and children.They see their happy and fulfilling relationship as amarriage of true minds that transcends mere law.They have careers, hobbies, friends, family, and eachother. But, unable to procreate and longing forchildren, they are hoping to adopt and, to improvetheir prospects, they have decided to wed. Today asin the past, children-wanted and unwanted-havealways been at the heart of marriage. People argue about and cry over and celebratemarriage because on a multitude of interlockinglevels, emotionally, logistically, socially, andfinancially, it matters. A History of Marriage traces itsevolution as an institution in terms of law, custom,and religion. It also explores the realities of marriageas individuals lived it in the context of love and duty,sex and loyalty, child-rearing and cohabiting, sharedfinances, and social recognition. These real-life experiences are presented in theirwider historical context: What were a couplesalternatives to staying together? How long was theaverage marriage until death ended it? What werethe realities of daily life for trousered husbands andtheir skirted wives? How pervasive was the doublestandard that empowered men while it deniedwomen the right to vote, to control their own money,to win custody of their children, to commit adulterywith impunity? What were housekeeping standardsand practice? How was food prepared? How werechildren raised? What divorce laws existed when
  19. 19. divorce was rare? Did spouses separate withoutlegally divorcing (in which case they were stillconsidered married)? Crucially, what were thedifferences between the experiences of wealthier andpoorer spouses, between, for example, the marriagesof Martha Coffin Wright and the unnamed immigrantwoman-lets call her Marta-who locked herchildren out of their tenement apartment on a bitterlycold March afternoon in 1 9 1 1 ? Both Martha and Marta had four children andhusbands whose earnings they needed to supplement:Martha wrote articles and Marta did textilepiecework. Martha was a fervent abolitionist andwomens rights advocate who, with her husbandscooperation, hid fugitive slaves in her house and, infull-bellied pregnancy, entertained the historic SenecaFalls Womens Rights Convention of 1 848 with hernewspaper article "Hints for Wives-and Husbands,"about the tedious, interminable "treadmill" ofhousework and caring for "the fallen little sons anddaughters of her Adam." But Marthas droll addressbelied her near despair at the toll exacted by herdaily grind and how, unlike her "liege lord," she rose"weary & unrefreshed, again to go through the sameroutine."
  20. 20. A seven-year-old girl cares for her siblings in their New York City tenement hallway. Their mother has locked them out of their apartment while she delivers finished piecework to her employer. (photo credit co13.2) Marta left far fewer traces of her existence. Hadsocial justice observer Elizabeth C. Watson nothappened upon her children, crying and huddledtogether for warmth in their tenement hallwaybecause Marta had locked them out of theirapartment on a bitterly cold and snowy winter day,there might be no traces at all. When she returnedhome and Watson demanded to know what hadhappened, Marta silenced her with this unanswerablequery: "What I must do? I maka the coats, my man heno gotta job. He walk this day for work. I lock achildren in, they burn up. I lock a children out, theycry. What I must do?" Like most other pieceworkers in her teemingtenement, Marta was overworked and under
  21. 21. intolerable pressure. Unlike Marthas children,Martas did not enjoy endless supplies of homemadegingerbread and stew; they survived on pushcart fastfood or their own culinary efforts, leaving themmalnourished and often hungry. Their living quarterswere overcrowded, with pieces of the coats Martastitched together from early morning until late atnight stashed in every nook and cranny. Even whenher man found work she had to supplement his wageswith piecework, and her older children had to pitchin as well. That daily struggle in that tenement and thosechildren provided the framework for Marta and herunderemployed husbands marriage, just as the dailygrind, the children, her loving husband, and theirpersonal circumstances provided the framework forMartha and her husbands marriage. Individuals likeMartha and Marta people this book, and their storiesbring to life the realities and particularities ofhistorical marriage. Part 1 of A History of Marriage examines the role ofromantic and erotic love as it developed over thecenturies and how it was affected by marriages otherdimensions, notably how spouses were chosen. Forexample, the hundreds of seventeenth-centurywomen encouraged and dowered by the French state-the fiZZes du roi, or kings daughters-who sailed toNew France to become the wives of bachelors underofficial orders to marry them had quite differentpriorities and prospects than nineteenth-centurydebutantes armed with dowries, social connections,and skills that included competency in music,embroidery, and sketching, and perhapsconversational French or Italian. Part 1 also considers how spouses learned whatmarriage meant and demanded of them, theparameters of its rules and guidelines, its purpose and
  22. 22. its rewards. It traces the evolution of weddings andthe married state (not always synonymous). In thechapter "Marriage from within Four Walls, " it delvesinto realities of daily life that constituted and shapedthe marital experience, for example Martha andDavid Wrights. "Go Forth and Multiply" focuses onevery aspect of child-rearing and discussescontraception, childbirth, nursing, training andteaching, loving and disciplining, putting to work,and mourning. The special and contentious role ofstep-parents is identified as one of the most importantthreads that link the past, when death ended so manyyoung marriages, and today, when divorce plays thesame role. "When Things Went Wrong" surveys thevarious ways spouses have responded to maritaldissension-bigamy, separation, even murder-butconcentrates on the complex institution of divorcewith its concomitants of custody and division ofproperty. By identifying the core values and realities ofhistorical marriage, including the social andindividual contexts in which it operated, Part 1 of AHistory of Marriage provides a lens onto the presentand even the future of marriage, as the experiences ofmillions of historic spouses lend perspective andsometimes lessons to todays North Americans. Onecrucial lesson is to avoid romanticizing historicalmarriage, because, as the great realist writer GustaveFlaubert observed, "Our ignorance of history causesus to slander our own times." Our own times areextraordinarily interesting, and Part 2 will tell theirstory as new chapters in marriages long history.
  23. 23. Chapter 1 Husbands and Wives - Who Were They? MAKING MATCHESOn November 1 0, 1 670, Jean Talon, the Intendant, ordistrict administrator, of Quebec City, wrote toFrances minister of finance: "All the kings daughterssent to New France last year are married, and almostall are pregnant or have had children, a testament tothe fertility of this country. I strongly recommendthat those who are destined for this country [nextyear] be in no way unattractive or have anythingrepugnant in their appearance, that they be healthyand strong, for the work of the country, or at leasthave some skill in household chores. . . . It is good tohave them accompanied by a certificate from theirPastor or a local Judge who can vouch for their beingfree and marriageable. " l The ambitious matchmaking program described inthis letter succeeded in recruiting 737 women, knownas les fiZZes du roi, or the kings daughters, to leaveFrance and set sail for the fledgling fur-tradingcolony of New France, where men heavilyoutnumbered women, and soldiers, settlers, and furtraders were desperate for wives. Most of les fiZZescame from modest backgrounds and more than halfwere orphans. With the kings dowry (except whenthe royal treasury was empty) of at least 50 livres tosupplement their good looks, household talents, and,
  24. 24. often, literacy and accounting skills, they quicklyfound husbands. Typical among les fiZZes were nineteen-year-oldCatherine Paulo, from LaRochelle, who marriedEtienne Campeau, a twenty-six-year-old mason andfarmer, and went on to have fifteen children.Another, Mathurine Thibault, was twenty-nine whenshe arrived and married the recently widowed JeanMilot, a master toolmaker with whom she had sixchildren. A tiny number of women disappointed theirsponsors and misbehaved. One offender wasCatherine Guichelin, who led a scandalous life andwas once charged with prostitution. She gave birth toseveral illegitimate children, and instead of raisingthe son and daughter she had with one husband, sheadopted them out to other families. Despite hernotoriety, though, even Catherine had no troublefinding husbands, annulling two marriage contracts,and marrying a third time. Les fiZZes were as healthy and capable as Talon andFrench officials intended, and so prolific that millionsof todays French Canadians are descended directlyfrom them. Against a checklist of qualities and skills,each of these women established her worth and hereligibility in the marriage market of man-heavyseventeenth-century French-Canadian colonialsociety. In tum, les fiZZes exercised their right toevaluate prospective husbands. Their primaryconcern, according to Marie de lIncarnation, theUrsuline Mother Superior who chaperoned them, waswhether a man had a house. They knew from theexperience of earlier arrivals that, without properlodgings, a new bride would endure great discomfortuntil a proper home was built.
  25. 25. A group of kings daughters arrives in Quebec in 1 667. Officials greet the higher-ranked women while hopeful bachelors gaze at the newcomers waiting in line. (photo credit 1 . 1 )As in New France, all societies have criteria forselecting spouses, and any exploration of marriage, inany time or place, should begin by identifying themen and women who married: Who were they? Whatcharacteristics did they share? What was expected ofthem, and why did they choose-or how were theychosen-to marry each other? It might seem frivolous to note that the most basicqualification for both bride and groom was to beliving beings-except when we learn that in rarecases, desperation and grief overcame even thatobstacle. In China, minghun, or afterlife marriage,weds dead sons to dead daughters, sparing them theeternal torment of their unmarried states. In Franceeven today, the presidents approval is enough tolegitimize weddings between the living and the dead.
  26. 26. The "rule" that marriages Jom only spouses ofopposite sex has also been practised in the breach. Inancient Rome, for example, Emperor Elagabalusmarried Zoticus, a male athlete from Smyrna; he alsoreferred to Hierocles, his blond slave, as his husband.The Roman historian and biographer Suetoniusdescribed how Emperor Nero "castrated the boySporus and actually tried to make a woman of him;and he married him with all the usual ceremonies,including a dowry and a bridal veil . . . and treatedhim as his wife." Contemporary Roman literaturespeaks about lesbian relationships but not marriages,likely because women lacked the influence and powerto bring them about. Same-sex unions did not survive antiquity, andearly European visitors were astonished and repelledby North American Native versions of them. TheCrow people, for example, recognized a third gender,or berdache, understood by Natives as "two spirit"people possessed of both maleness and femalenessand, in many tribes, permitted to marry partners ofthe same sex. The polygamous Aleut and Cheyennepermitted male berdaches to be co-wives of a manalongside single-spirit women. Whether they marriedmonogamously or polygamously, berdaches had toobserve traditional kinship rules for marriage."Strange country this," observed fur trader Edwin T.Denig in 1833, "where males assume the dress andperform the duties of females, while women tum menand mate with their own sex!"2 In Europe andcolonial North America, meanwhile, the reality ofsame-gender sexual attraction continued to passunnoticed or to be suppressed and even criminalized,and spouses had to be of opposite sex for a marriageto take place.
  27. 27. The earliest known photograph of a North American berdache is titled"Squaw Jim and his Squaw. " Jim is an enlisted scout honoured for his bravery after he saved the life of a tribesman in the Battle of the Rosebud, June 1 7, 1 876. (photo credit 1 .2) AGE AT FIRST MARRIAGEOne issue that affected all marriages was the age ofthe newlyweds, especially the brides. As historianBrent D. Shaw explains, the age of brides is "one ofthe most important factors in determining the overallrates of fertility in a given population, and hence its
  28. 28. general demographic profile. It also affects a wholerange of social institutions of reproduction, above allthe shape of the family, the relationships betweenthe mother and her children, between husband andwife, and the ways in which property can beredistributed through inheritance."3 The age of bridesreflected as well womens status and the roles theirsociety expected them to play. In much of the world, even babies could bemarried off. In traditional China, the practice of tungyang-hsi-raising a daughter-in-law from childhood­involved giving away or selling a baby girl as youngas weeks or months old as the future wife of the sonwhose family would raise her. It was believed thispractice was conducive to raising submissive,obedient, and hardworking brides perfectly familiarwith their in-laws domestic routines and personalneeds and-always a worry-less likely to run awaythan wives married at an older age. Tung yang-hsidated from at least the Sung dynasty (960-1 279) and,as late as the twentieth century, accounted for about20 percent of marriages in China. In India, where Hinduism revered marriage as "asacrament of transcendental importance" thatfamilies arranged under the influence if not theinspiration of divine guidance, little girls could alsobe married.4 Indian families, like Chinese,appreciated the malleability of the very young bridewhose husband and in-laws could train and mould.Child marriage was so widespread that in the singledecade between 1 921 and 1931, the number of childwives rose from 8,565,357 to 1 2,271 ,595. However,the custom of gauna-keeping the preadolescentbride in her parents home until she matured sexually-made many child marriages a two-step process. Thefirst was the wedding. The second was the gauna
  29. 29. ceremony, after which the bride was sent to live withher husbands family. Among the upper classes of western Europe, thesituation was not unlike the Asian. Parents so oftenmarried off their daughters at or before puberty thatthe words nubile and marriageable were synonymous.Pushing a young girl to marry guaranteed against thedisgrace of her having a bastard baby and therebydestroying her chances of consolidating or improvingher familys status and fortune through marriage. In the twelfth century, Pope Alexander III tried tobring a measure of protection to these young bridesthrough a canon law that specified that the minimumage for "present consent, " without which a marriagecould be annulled, was twelve for girls and fourteenfor boys. Some parents among the elitescircumvented this restriction by interpreting "twelve"to mean the twelfth year, and married off theirdaughters at eleven. Other parents simply ignored thelaw or applied for papal dispensations to marry offeven younger children.5 Often, young spouses were betrothed in infancy orearly childhood, despite a twelfth-century papaldecree setting seven as the minimum age forbetrothal. (Betrothal was akin to marriage except thatthe death of one partner did not mean widowhood.)This was the fate of Marguerite, who was only twowhen her father, the French king Louis VII, betrothedher to five-year-old Henry, son of Henry II ofEngland. Two years later, after Marguerites mother,Constance, died in childbirth, and Louis waited amere five weeks before remarrying, Henry IIresponded to the diplomatic implications of theseevents with an immediate celebration of littleMarguerite and Henrys marriage. Most betrothed girls lived at home until they weredeemed old enough to marry. But as in China and
  30. 30. India, some were brought up by their future in-laws.These girls learned their new homes customs,culture, language, and idiosyncrasies. Countess Agnesof Essex, betrothed at three years to Geoffrey de Vere,was six when she was handed over to Geoffreysbrother, the Earl of Oxford. Seven-year-old Matilda,daughter of Henry I of England, betrothed to HolyRoman Emperor Henry V, twenty-one years hersenior, was entrusted to Henrys court to "learn thelanguage and customs and laws of the country, andall that an empress ought to know, now, in the timeof her youth."6 To ensure her immersion in theGermanic court, the emperor dismissed her Englishcaretakers. The first time they married, husbands tended to beclose in age or a few years older than their wives,though it was neither uncommon nor illegal for aman of sixty to marry a child four or five decadesyounger. Sixteenth-century British translator AngelDay, for example, denounced a greedy fathers planto marry off his "young and dainty" daughter to arepulsive miser of "filthy tawny deformed andunseemly hue . . . so wretched and ill favoured acreature" as "repugnant to reason, or any manner ofconsiderate and sage advisement. "7 What was it like for a small child to be betrothedor married and delivered into the hands of strangers?Mohandas Gandhi, betrothed at seven and wed atthirteen, later condemned child marriage as a "cruelcustom" and added, "Little did I dream then that oneday I should severely criticize my father for havingmarried me as a child. "8 Rassundari Devi, anineteenth-century Bengali mother of eleven, likenedherself as a child bride to "the sacrificial goat beingdragged to the altar, the same hopeless situation, thesame agonized screams."9 Most of the once child
  31. 31. wives and grooms have left no traces, certainly nottestaments. And although some may not have mindedbeing married so young, we can reasonablyextrapolate that a great many women were wretched,and the laws against child marriage reflect a bitterawareness of their ill treatment and unhappiness.Even if well treated, they were deprived of childhood.A Korean girl gazes for the first time at the bridegroom she will soon wed in an arranged marriage, ca. 1 920. (photo credit 1 .3) Once ensconced in their new homes, these childrenwere not always well looked after. Some girls wereraped by impatient husbands or callous in-laws. Andboth boys and girls were vulnerable to their in-lawsvengeance if the alliances they had helped forge
  32. 32. changed, or the fortunes they commanded were lost.After her father lost his wealth, Countess Agnes ofEssex was confined to a tower and maltreated. Eventhose who were not unkindly treated suffered the lossof their parents, families, and homes, all replaced bynew people expecting the newcomer, almost always agirl, to be modest and obedient, soft-spoken andsubmissive, and virginally pure in word and deed. Yet however difficult the transition, howeveronerous the demands, however unnatural for merechildren to be cast in the role of apprentice spouses,few girls were subjected to sexual relations until theyreached physical maturity, usually menarche or anage between twelve and fourteen, commonly thelegal age of consent and the age most societiesconsidered suitable for marriage, at least for girlsfrom privileged families. Non-elite girls and boys hadquite different experiences. In ancient Athens, mostwomen married at between fourteen and eighteenyears, very soon after menarche, to men usually adecade or more older. The consequence of this agediscrepancy was that the brides fathers, by then atleast in their mid-forties and aware of their ownmortality, were eager to arrange their daughters futures while they could. (Their sons married asadults, and so were deeply involved in arrangingtheir own marriages.) Marriage pre-emptedpremarital pregnancy and its attendant disgrace. Italso freed young women to engage in the marital sexthen thought to cure gynecological problems,including the hormonal imbalances of puberty. In keeping with its militaristic culture, ancientSparta prepared its parthenoi-unmarried girls-fortheir future duties as the mothers of strong warriorswith a rigorous training regimen that set them apartfrom their sisters in other Greek city states. Muscular,conditioned, and fit, the parthenoi were at least
  33. 33. eighteen before they married. Marriage put an abruptend to this relatively unbridled life as the bride tookup residence with her husband or his parents. But ifher groom was under thirty, he continued to live incommunal military barracks and could visit his wifeonly "under cover of darkness, in conspiratorialsecrecy from his messmates and even from the rest ofhis household," even as the couple proceeded toproduce little Spartans. 10 Family life, known toencourage relaxation, was suppressed for as long aspossible to avoid eroding the militaristicinfrastructure that permeated Spartan culture fromtop to bottom. As in Greece, most girls in ancient Rome married intheir late teens to early twenties. Many scholars nowbelieve that there, too, only girls from the propertiedclass were married off at younger ages, to menusually in their mid-twenties. Upper-class marriageswere therefore characterized by a wider age gapbetween husband and wife, with all the implicationsthat had for marital relations, reproduction,widowhood, remarriage, and the transfer ofproperty. ll Centuries later in western Europe, non­elite brides tended to marry in their mid- to late teensto early twenties. This is necessarily a generalizationabout such vastly different nations and cultures, butit provides a useful rule of thumb and is the basis forscholarly interpretations of the dynamics and natureof marriage, as the following examples ShOW. 12 In Germany during the second half of the sixteenthcentury, tradesmen were prohibited from marryinguntil they passed the exams that transformedjourneymen into masters. But as economic constraintsmade it more difficult for even a master to affordmarriage, there arose a significant class of men whosefinancial situation made them unmarriageable.Engagements stretched from months to years, forcing
  34. 34. some couples to petition for exemption from therules, usually because of pregnancy or, as one urgentpetition phrased it, "weighty reasons." Despite criticswho argued that marriage prevented giving in to lust,that newlyweds should welcome financial hardship asa divine challenge, and that in any case God wouldprovide, the rules were so stringently applied that theaverage age of marriage rose, with many would-bespouses remaining single. Other examples suggest wide variations in the ageat first marriage. In 1864, in the northern andsouthern Portuguese provinces of Viana do Casteloand Faro, 15.5 percent and 42.7 percent respectivelyof women between twenty and twenty-four weremarried; 37.8 percent and 1 1 percent of womenbetween fifty and fifty-four remained single. In 1 880,in the Belgian arrondissements of Tielt and Charleroi,the average age of marriage was 28.4 and 25respectively; 30.5 percent of fifty-year-old Tieltwomen remained unmarried compared to only 9.2percent in Charleroi. 1 3 In England and Wales betweenthe 1 840s to the 1 870s, more than two-thirds of menand women in their mid-twenties had not yetmarried, and 1 2 percent of women in their fiftiesremained unmarried. 1 4 By the nineteenth century, North Americans tendedtoward the western European practice of latermarriage or lifelong celibacy, or at least singleness. InUpper and Lower Canada (now Ontario and Quebec),men and women married almost as late as westernEuropeans, though fewer remained unmarried. InLower Canada, more widowers than widowsremarried. In Upper Canada, however, with its ratioof 1 45 males to 1 00 women aged fifteen to thirty­nine, widows were likely to remarry. In 1 871 in NovaScotia, especially in Scottish-settled counties, womenoften married in their mid- to late twenties, usually to
  35. 35. men a few years older. Though some women marriedbefore their twenty-first birthdays, men rarely did. ISIn 1 880, in Philadelphia, Irish immigrant women,many working as domestics, married at an average26.4 years (Irish men at 29. 1), German women at23.9 years (men at 25.9), and American-born whitewomen at 25.4 years (and the men at 28 years). 16 PATIERNS OF MARRIAGEA wealth of studies exploring the details anddynamics of marriage has allowed scholars topostulate the existence of marriage models. Inhistoric Europe, three are evident: the Western,Eastern, and Mediterranean models. Each is linked tothe age of spouses at their first marriage and is bestunderstood in the context of environmental,economic, and demographic conditions. Thesemarriage models help make sense of the past,particularly in understanding the effect that age atfirst marriage had on individual spouses, on theirfamilies and societies, and on the kind of householdthey lived in as a married couple. In the Western model, both men and womenmarried at relatively later ages, usually no more thana few years apart, and formed a new, usually nuclearhousehold. Few households were multi-generationalor comprised more than one family. For example,French peasants in the four centuries before theRevolution married later because of rules ingrainedin their culture. One such rule was that spouses didnot cohabit with parents after they married. Anotherwas that establishing ones own home and hearth wasessential. Western households, in other words,seldom included extended families or any sort ofpolygamous arrangement, although a variant Western
  36. 36. marriage model incorporated domestic servants orlabourers into the household. The Eastern model was almost the opposite of theWestern. Most people married at a young age andjoined an existing household, usually the grooms,instead of establishing a new one. These jointhouseholds included more than one married couplewho were usually related to each other, as well asother relatives such as unmarried siblings orwidowed elders. One result of this model was thatfew people lived alone or with unrelated people. (Inthe Far East, establishing new households wasactually forbidden.) The Mediterranean model was characterized byyoung brides married to older husbands. As inEastern marriages, the new couple seldom establisheda new household but instead took over, joined, orsplit an existing household. The result was a societyin which most households comprised more than onegeneration and family, and included extended familymembers . What primarily distinguished the Mediterraneanfrom the Eastern model was the age at first marriage,with its very different social, cultural, and economicimplications. For one thing, older husbands were lesslikely to have living fathers, which significantlyaffected their income and livelihood. Upon hisfathers death, for example, a man gained legal andsocial independence, which changed his position androle in society and in his extended family; usually theoldest male was the head of the household. In ancientRome, more than three-quarters of males and half offemales had lost their fathers by the time theymarried, greatly reducing the influence of the patriapotestas-the Roman fathers life-and-death powerover his family) ? Yet another marriage model waspolygamy. Usually polygamy was reserved for
  37. 37. wealthy men. In China, men could marry more thanone wife as well as taking concubines into theirhouses. One extraordinary consequence of thismarriage system was that today, one and a halfmillion Chinese men are directly descended fromGiocangga, the Ching dynastys foundersgrandfather, through his descendants many wivesand concubines. The average monogamously marriedChinese man, on the other hand, has an average ofonly twenty descendants. The Bible, too, describes the several wives of manyOld Testament notables, among them Abraham,David, and King Solomon, the latter having sevenhundred wives and three hundred concubines. KingPhilip of Macedon and his son Alexander the Greatboth had mUltiple wives, and polygamy was notuncommon among nobles and other privileged men.As Christianity developed, the church graduallyturned against polygamy, in part because Greco­Roman culture prescribed monogamy. "Now indeedin our time, and in keeping with Roman custom, it isno longer allowed to take another wife, " SaintAugustine observed. The new religion of Islam, however, did not banpolygamy. Instead, its Quran restricted Muslim mento four wives, and the Prophet advised a man witheleven wives to divorce seven of them. "If you fearthat you shall not be able to deal justly with theorphans, " the Quran advises, "marry women of yourchoice, two or three or four; but if you fear that youshall not be able to deal justly with them, then onlyone. " Unlike the Chinese system, in which a principalwife held sway over secondary wives, Islam decreedthat all wives were equal. Meanwhile Christian Europe struggled for centuriesto stamp out polygamy, which many theologiansregarded as less morally repellent than divorce. When
  38. 38. Henry VIII wished to divest himself of his first wife,Catharine of Aragon, Pope Clement VII and hisadvisers at one point proposed that the king marry asecond wife instead, averting the sin of divorce andgranting legitimacy to the male heir that she mightdeliver. Reformation leader Martin Luther, who could findno scriptural condemnation of polygamy, held similarviews; this was reflected in his advice to theadulterous Philip of Hesse. After Philip pleaded thatthe sexual wasteland of his arranged marriage toChristine of Saxony had driven him to defile hismarriage vows, Luther advised him to take a secondwife, keeping the marriage secret to avoid bothscandal and the risk of execution, which was then thepenalty for bigamy. (After news of Philips marriageto Margarete von der Saale leaked out, Luther urgedhim to deny it.) In early nineteenth-century NorthAmerica, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-daySaints, popularly referred to as Mormons, revived themostly moribund practice of "plural marriage, " orpolygamy, after founder Joseph Smith received adivine revelation that some elders should take morethan one wife. As this practice spread, so did publicoutrage. Yet it was not polygamy that sealed Smithsfate but his 1 844 declaration that he was a candidatefor the u.S. presidency, which led to his arrest oncharges of treason and conspiracy. A mob of about ahundred and fifty armed men charged the jail whereSmith was being held and shot him dead. Smiths murder did nothing to stop the debateabout Mormon polygamy. By the time of his death in1 877, Smiths successor, Brigham Young, had entered"sealings, " or marriages, with fifty-six women,sixteen of whom bore him fifty-seven children. Therest, he said, were "old ladies whom I regard ratheras mothers than wives, " whom he had "sealed" to
  39. 39. protect, a Mormon variant of a common practice inmany tribal societies that stipulate that a widow mustmarry her brother-in-law. Seven widows of Mormon leader Brigham Young pose in 1 899, two decades after their husbands death. On the right at the back is Amelia, who married Young when she was twenty-four and he was sixty-one. She was his favourite wife. (photo credit 1 .4) In 1878, after the u.s. Supreme Court ruled againstMormon George Reynoldss right to plural marriage,polygamists were subjected to severe penalties. Tosave the church, its fourth president, WilfordWoodruff, officially abandoned polygamy in an 1 890manifesto. Some diehard polygamists fled to remotecommunities in the United States and Canada, andthe Church of Latter-day Saints ceased toacknowledge them as members . In 1 892, Canada alsocriminalized polygamy, which ran counter to thelegal definition of marriage as articulated in the 1866English case of Hyde v. Hyde: "the voluntaryunion . . . of one man and one woman to the exclusionof all others. "
  40. 40. (Polyandry, in which women marry more than onehusband, has no North American history. Polyandryis almost always the product of, or perhaps thelogical response to, an environment so harsh that theland cannot sustain an ever growing population: theHimalayas are a good example. It enables men toshare rather than forgo fatherhood, and provides asocial structure in which hard-scrabbling people cansurvive and perpetuate themselves.) Besides Mormons and breakaway Mormons, NorthAmerican utopias such as the Oneida Community,founded in 1 848, practised "complex marriage, " withevery member theoretically married to every othermember and encouraged to have "interviews"-thatis to say, sex-with other community members. Toavoid pregnancies, which were supposed to be pre­approved by a sort of eugenics committee, Oneidanmen practised coitus interruptus. But by 1879, theOneidans abandoned complex marriage in favour ofmonogamy, and in 1 880, over seventy of themmarried traditionally. In North America and Europe, monogamy hasdeveloped as the only legal form of marriage, andapart from pockets of resistance, polygamy has beenmostly stamped out. When North Americans marry,they are choosing a single mate whose qualities willnot be supplemented or complemented by anotherone. This convention is rooted in the strict regulationsabout bloodlines that in all societies defineacceptable spouses and prohibit incestuous mating.Most ban marriage with close blood relatives-sisterswith brothers, mothers with sons, fathers withdaughters-but permit or even encourage cousins tomarry. Marrying cousins was a common Greek andEastern strategy for reuniting property that had beendivided among heirs. I8 So was marrying uncles with
  41. 41. nieces, which Jewish canon law, for example,permitted. In India, marrying relatives was common,and in some parts remains so today. 19 Incest taboos identify those we are forbidden tomarry. Rules about lineage, exquisitely complexstatements about the nature of blood relationships,identify those we are permitted or even supposed tomarry. The levirate system, for example, requiredmen to marry their brothers widows. Among theancient Hebrews, levirate operated among membersof a household when the deceased had no male heir;it ensured his continuity by acknowledging him asthe father, rather than the uncle, of his livingbrothers child. (That living brother could procreateagain, guaranteeing that his bloodline did not dieout.) Rules about appropriate marriage partners stemfrom each societys view of itself and its people. Thenature of descent-matrilineal, patrilineal-is ofparamount importance. (A few small societies usevariations on these primary lineage systems: Hawaiisambilineality, which traces lineage through eithermother or father; or unilineality, by which theIroquois trace lineality through either their mothersor fathers descent.) Exogamous marriage, the unionof blood-unrelated people, involves different financialconsiderations, often in the form of a bride price orother arrangement. Endogamy, on the other hand,was the custom of marrying within a social class,religion, or ethnicity. Endogamy served to preserveminority cultures and to prevent assimilation into ordilution by (or of) the dominant culture. Aristocratsmarried aristocrats and peasants married peasants;Christians married Christians and Jews married Jews;whites married whites and non-whites married non­whites. In India, with its intrinsically endogamouscaste system that permits marriage only between
  42. 42. members of castes of equal or similar rank, Brahminsmarried Brahmins and dalits, or untouchables,married dalits. In North America, the familiar European rulessometimes ceded place to urgent circumstances. InNew France, where the economic interests of the furtrade were paramount, officials overlooked racialdifferences and encouraged colonists to marryNatives as a means of facilitating the fur trade andensuring loyalty toward France. In the ThirteenColonies and later the United States, on the otherhand, the racialism that stoked black slavery sopermeated social consciousness that forty-one statespassed anti-miscegenation laws outlawing white­black marriage and, for good measure, often white­Native and white-Asian as well. For three centuries,until the U.S. Supreme Court struck them down asunconstitutional, these laws reflected and supportedwhite supremacy and the twentieth-century notion ofwhite purity, and defined interracial marriage as thecrime of miscegenation. Though race was not an issue in homogenousEuropean societies, complex rules narrowed down thehunt for a suitable bride or groom. Among theprivileged classes, political, commercial, and socialconsiderations were paramount to parents selectingtheir childrens mates. Nobles and royals contendedas well with complicated diplomatic issues,betrothing their young sons and daughters to form orreinforce alliances they hoped would still beadvantageous when the marriage eventually tookplace. Less privileged people, the great majority, haddifferent concerns, but for them as well, marrying offchildren had serious financial implications for theentire family. It was not enough to ensure that themarried-into family were people of means. Parents,
  43. 43. usually fathers, were responsible for negotiating thebest deal possible and then for ensuring that allparties honoured it. If a potential bride was attractive, apparentlyhealthy and chaste, and unburdened with hopelesslyunmarriageable older sisters or disgraced relatives,her family could expect a substantial commitmentfrom a future husband. Depending on his familyssocial class, this could be anything from a job to asubstantial inheritance, future or already in hand. Insocieties with primogeniture, which kept landholdings intact by bequeathing them to one son,usually the oldest, these sons were valued maritalcandidates. Their siblings, however, were much lessso. The same was true wherever inheritance favouredfirst sons. Among the nobility in Poitou, France, fromthe twelfth to the fourteenth centuries, 77 percent ofoldest sons but only 30 percent of younger onesmarried. In one Portuguese province in the fifteenthand sixteenth centuries, 80 percent of first-born sonsmarried, compared with only 39 percent of fourth­born sons. Norways nineteenth-century inheritancelaws were so strict that they left about a quarter of allmales without the means to marry and support afamily. BRIDAL ENDOWMENTSBrides were also expected to bring property, money,or other valuables to the union, usually in the form ofa dowry. Without a dowry, most women could nothave married. But the dowry also offered somemeasure of protection to the woman in her newworld, especially if her parents paid it in instalments,encouraging her husband to treat her better than he
  44. 44. might have without the promise of further payments.Furthermore, if he died, the dowry was returned toher; though her father-in-law managed her dowry,she remained its legal owner. If it included land, shehad to consent to any sales. Maristella Botticinis detailed study of dowries infifteenth-century Tuscany, which examined bothwealthy and humble households, illustrates howdowries worked. 2o In Tuscany, the dowry was aprerequisite for marriage, regardless of class. Evenorphan girls reared in charities received smalldowries, provided by the charities or bytownspeoples bequests. In Florence, parents couldeven invest money in the Monte delle Doti, or dowryfund, which offered a good return for the dowriestheir daughters would inevitably need. Dowries involved substantial transfers of wealth. Inthe decades between 1 4 1 5 and 1 436 in the city ofCortona, when the average annual salary for anurban worker was only 1 4 florins, dowries averagedan impressive 1 25.5 florins. The size of dowriesdepended on several factors. After searching out asuitable candidate for their daughter, parents offereda dowry based on the work she would do in thehouse and, sometimes, the field, and how manychildren she would bear and raise. An older bride, "aless valuable product" who would cost her familymore in keep and then offer fewer child-bearing andhousework years to her future husband, wouldrequire a bigger dowry to persuade the groom toaccept her. (This category included women marryingfor the second time.) A younger daughter, with moreyears of work and child-bearing to offer, could bemarried off with a smaller dowry. Social mobility also determined the size of dowries.Tuscan girls marrying down (for example, from themercantile class to the peasantry) were given larger
  45. 45. dowries than those marrying up (from the peasantryto the professional class). Botticini interprets this asevidence that caring parents thereby enabled theirdaughters to maintain a standard of living similar totheir birth familys. Compared to girls with smallerdowries, girls with larger ones tended to producemore children, likely because they were better fedand treated. The dowry system, however, also spawned muchsadness. Because societies that greatly valued malesover females regarded endowing a daughter as adrain on the family finances, countless unloved,unattractive, inconvenient, orphaned, or just plainunlucky girls got married off to patently undesirablemen or were interred in convents, because bothaccepted smaller than usual dowries. In colonial North America, the importance ofdowries was leavened by the dearth of marriageablewomen. This was the case in seventeenth-centuryNew France, where, among a population of threethousand, men outnumbered women five to one-andmany of those women were nuns. Though some furtraders, adventurers, and colonial servants enteredunions with Native women and a few married them,most bachelors faced such gloomy marital prospectsthat King Louis XIV and Jean-Baptiste Colbert, hisfinance minister, developed a program that preparedrobust young women to immigrate to New Franceand marry settlers. This chapter introduced a couple of the 737 fiZZesdu roi, most of whom ranged in age from fifteen tothe late twenties. Most had urban backgrounds, andmore than half were orphans raised in the HopitalGeneral du Paris, which trained them in domesticskills that qualified them to work in bourgeois homesor to marry men eager for such capable wives. Sixpercent of les fiZZes were of impoverished noble or
  46. 46. bourgeois stock, welcomed into the program because,as Intendant Talon remarked in his report to FinanceMinister Colbert, "Three or four girls of high birthand distinguished by quality would perhaps be usefulto unite in marriage with Officers whom nothingholds to the country except their appointment andtheir land grants. " In France, a coterie of well-born,well-endowed women signed on to marry theseofficers. Like their consoeurs, they were adventurouswomen game to make better lives in New France thanOld France could offer. Dowries played an important role and weresubstantial: from 50 livres to as much as 3,000 livresprovided by the families of higher-ranked womenwho expected to marry military officers and whosehouseholds needed more finery. (The royal treasuryprovided at most 1 00 to 200 livres for thesegentlewomen.) Among such women were MargueriteChabert de la Carriere and Judith de Matras, eachwith substantial dowries of 3, 000 livres. Margueritemarried Troop Captain Jacques Du Mesnil-Heurry,and Judith married a seigneur, Charles-Pierre LeGardeur. Catherine de Belleau, with 1,000 livres,married another seigneur, Jean-Baptiste Morin deBelleroche. Les fiZZes also received trousseaus of ordinaryclothing and such useful items as needles, thread,scissors and pins, a comb, stockings, gloves and abonnet, 2 livres for spending money and (subject tothe fluctuations of the royal treasury) 50 livres tostock their future households. 21 At least 95 percent married and seemed to farewell in their marriages, managing to withstand theharshness of Canadian winters. Observers praisedtheir homes, conduct, and fertility-about 90 percenthad children. After a decade, New Frances genderimbalance greatly lessened and its marriage rate
  47. 47. increased. The fiZZes du roi program was discontinued,a victim of its own success. Most of that success wasdue to its French overseers clever matching of pairedbachelor-colonists under orders to marry withdowered and trained women well prepared for whatawaited them, including the likelihood of having tomarry outside their social class. PARENTAL PRESENCE AND PRESSUREUnlike les fiZZes, who were under the tutelage of theFrench state, many young women in both Europe andNorth America had parents who took an activeinterest in their marital arrangements, although highmortality rates meant that a significant number hadat least one step-parent or guardian instead. Katarinavon Bora, for example, was five when her motherdied and her father sent her to a Benedictineboarding school; soon after, he remarried and neverbrought Katarina back to live with him. Inadolescence, she was consigned to the convent, whichshe later fled in search of a husband and a family life.On the other hand, American Mary Westcottsstepmother was devoted to her and, with herhusband, was deeply involved in Marys marriageplanning. After the financial and other issues had been dulyconsidered, many parents took pains to investigatethe characters of both the potential spouse and thein-laws. First-time brides were expected to be virgins,though first-time husbands did not need to be. Goodlooks, good character, and good health wereimportant and, in the marriage market, openlydiscussed. Pity the pockmarked, bucktoothed,bowlegged, or cross-eyed, who were mercilessly
  48. 48. described and demeaned to force up (or down) thedowry or bride price. Where beauty had its price, subterfuge had itsplace. Where light skin was valued, so were powder,sunbonnets, and bleaches. Juiced lemons and rhubarblightened dark hair. By the sixteenth century, makeupfrom powder, rouge, and mascara recast faces. Badteeth could be (temporarily) concealed behindsombre expressions or shy smiles. Odours could bemasked-or at least diluted-by powder. Mothers had a duty to produce presentabledaughters who conformed to the beauty standards oftheir time and place. In 1 609, Ben Jonson describedvarious duplicities a woman should employ tocounteract her flaws. Among them: "If she be short,let her sit much, lest, when she stands, she bethought to sit. . . . If a sour breath, let her neverdiscourse fasting, and always talk at her distance. Ifshe have black and rugged teeth, let her offer the lessat laughter, especially if she laugh wide and open."22 In eras of high mortality, good health was at leastas important as good looks, and a robust constitutiondesirable. The pale skin that was an asset amongpatricians was a disability among ruddy-facedpeasants; the calloused palm that made aristocratsshudder indicated an experienced field hand. The terrible and permanent consequences ofserious error made selecting a mate a demanding taskfraught with anxiety. Some families preferred not torely solely on their own impressions and hired specialdetectives to investigate. In the late nineteenth century, young Edma Griggs,daughter of Detroit Alderman Stephen AdelbertGriggs (and the authors great-aunt), fell in love andaccepted a proposal of marriage. As the weddingpreparations proceeded, so did a discreetinvestigation by a detective hired by Edmas father.
  49. 49. Belatedly, after the invitations had been printed, thedetective discovered that the young man already hada wife. Edmas parents cancelled the wedding andpacked their heartbroken daughter off on a Europeantour to recover. She returned to live with them and,after their death, a paid companion. She nevermarried, and her broken engagement entered familylore as a muted tragedy. An exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin details ahappier premarital investigation by the detectiveagency Salamonski & Co, hired by nineteen-year-oldAnne Schmidts parents after twenty-eight-year-oldPaul Benedick asked for her hand in marriage. For 40Deutschmarks-the same amount Paul paid eachmonth for his rented room-Salamonski investigatedsuch questions as: What is Pauls uncle Siegmundsprofession? Where does Pauls family come from?How is his familys business doing? What did Paulinherit from his family? Who is Pauls aunt marriedto? What can be found out about Pauls mother? Howmuch does Paul earn? Is he able to support a family?What type of person is he? How much rent does hepay for his lodging? What does he like about life inthe big city? Is he able to father healthy children andwill he raise them as Jews? Happily, Salamon ski &Co. uncovered nothing untoward and, in 1 928, Anneand Paul were married. Les fiZZes du roi would have understood why Annesparents hired Salamonski & Co. and they almostcertainly could have provided the detectives with alist of similar questions. They would also havesympathized with Edma Griggs when her fiances truemarital status was revealed, because Jean Talon andlocal priests shared the same concerns and suspicionsabout certain French immigrants to New France-andindeed about a few of les fiZZes.
  50. 50. Throughout history, choosing marriage partnershas been a complex and, especially in the case ofnobles and royals, often convoluted procedure. Beforea deal was struck, a host of considerations wereweighed, and usually family needs and obligationstook priority over individual preferences.Nonetheless, future spouses were necessarily at theheart of their own marriages, and had to bepersonally prepared for what was to come.
  51. 51. Chapter 2 Learning Marriage, Rites of Passage THE MARRIAGE STAKESIn the late 1 820s, Caroline Sheridan was officiallyintroduced into London high society. As she danced,flirted, and chatted at Almacks Assembly Rooms, shenever lost sight of her mission: to find a husband in asingle social "season." Carolines chances appearedbright. She was named one of Almacks twelveprettiest debutantes, and she and her sisters, Helenand Georgiana, were referred to, approvingly, as "theThree Graces," a nickname inspired by their beautyand breeding, and because they lived in a grace-and­favour apartment at Hampton Court, beneficiaries ofa charitable gesture to honour their grandfather, theplaywright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The stakes were high for the sisters. Their fatherhad died young, leaving his widow with four sons,three daughters, and only a small pension to supportthem. Marrying well seemed the only way out for thegirls, and because they had no dowries, they had torely on their personal qualities: Helens charm,Carolines wit, and Georgianas great beauty. Theyhad to abide as well by the convention that sistersshould marry, or at least be engaged, in descendingorder of age. This meant that Helen and Caroline hadto weigh the cost that refusing proposals would haveon Georgiana, their beauteous little sister, alreadycourted by several bachelors.
  52. 52. Countess Lieven, the Russian ambassadors wife, waltzes at the high­ society social club Almacks in this 1813 sketch by GeorgeCruikshank. Almacks was considered the best marriage mart for the elite. (photo credit 2.1) Helen capitulated first and, though she did not lovehim, married Captain Price Blackwood, heir to theIrish peer Lord Dufferin. Blackwood overlooked herlack of a dowry and his familys disapproval becausehe loved her so much, and before long, Helen grew tolove him as well. Caroline, next oldest, had noproposals from the men she met during her season,perhaps because of her confident intellectuality, andso the Honourable George Nortons pursuit of herbecame an urgent matter. Norton, brother of LordGrandey, had been enamoured of Caroline since shewas sixteen. Her mother had advised him to waituntil she was eighteen and a debutante; he did so,and once again asked for her hand in marriage. By then Caroline was in her second social season,terrified of "living and dying a lonely old maid" anddeeply affected by her mothers plea that she sacrifice
  53. 53. her personal qualms and accept Nortons proposal forits apparent financial benefits. Reluctantly, sheagreed to marry "a man she did not love; whom shedid not profess to love; for certain advantages-toavoid certain pressing miseries." l On June 30, 1 827,nineteen-year-old Caroline wed twenty-six-year-oldGeorge Norton and was trapped for nearly a lifetimein a marriage soon notorious for her legalhelplessness as an abused wife. After her failure toattract a suitor during nearly two London socialseasons, the English gentlewomans rite of passagefrom maiden to woman, Caroline had taken a (mis)calculated risk and accepted the only proposal shehad, thereby-she thought-ensuring her financialfuture and freeing her younger sister, Georgiana, tomarry in her tum.Marriage has always been a serious business thatushered spouses into a new stage of life, and in mostsocieties, rites of passages helped prepare them forthe transition from childhood to their future lives aswives and husbands. Menarche, marking sexualmaturation, is a rite of passage in itself and is oftenthe occasion for ceremonies. Many North AmericanNative peoples, for example, confined menstruatinggirls to a menstrual hut where their mothers cared forthem and taught them what it was to be a woman. 2 Rites of passage involving feats of daring, courage,or skill often propelled adolescent boys into the nextstage of life. Some rituals, like scarification,tattooing, or circumcision, forced them to suffer pain"manfully"-that is, in silence. Circumcision, whichunderscored sexual maturity, also encouraged malebonding, and marked the passage between boyhoodand young manhood. Other kinds of rites, such asNative American vision quests, sent young men (and
  54. 54. sometimes women) alone into nature, fasting andawaiting a supernatural vision to guide their future. In ancient Rome, a boy surrendered the purple­bordered toga praetexta that was a symbol ofchildhood and donned the pure white toga of aRoman man. He also dedicated his bulla, a locket-likepiece of jewellery containing a talisman, to the lares,the household gods. Then a public procession led tothe Forum, where the no-longer boy was formallyenrolled as a citizen. Fathers would decide when thisrite of passage would take place, usually when theirsons were fourteen to sixteen years old and physicallydeveloped enough for military service. Afterward, thenew citizen began a years training with a prominentcivilian or military man his father had selected tocare for him. In Europe and Euro-North America, breeching­dressing boys in breeches or trousers at the age of sixor seven-was an important ritual passage that ended"infancy" and corresponded to the age of reason asmost societies understood it. After breeching, fathersassumed more control over their sons education ortraining. This included arranging for schools or tutorsor instructing them personally, including about theirroles and responsibilities in society. Religious rites of passage such as Protestantconfirmation and Jewish bar and (since 1 922) batmitzvahs emphasized statements of faith andknowledge of theology, and conveyed a sense of thecelebrants responsibilities upon entry into religiousand social maturity. This maturity has been reflectedin laws that, by specifying legal ages of consent forsexual activity, transfer personal responsibility fromparents to their children. Whereas rites of passage mark the arrival ofmaturity, parents and other married adults havealways been the principal instructors about the
  55. 55. realities of domestic married life. From earlychildhood, girls "helped" their mothers withhousehold work, cooking and baking, dusting andscrubbing, mending, darning and sewing, tendinggardens, poultry, and small animals, and mindingyounger children. They accompanied mothers tomarket and helped or watched them buy and sell.Like their brothers, who learned how to be men byassisting and imitating their fathers, their upbringingconstituted an apprenticeship in adulthood and in themarried life most expected would be part of it. Aristocratic girls learned different skills: literacy inEnglish, and enough arithmetic to keep householdaccount books and even conduct or understandbusiness ventures. They were also expected to masterhousehold and estate management, includingsupervising servants, and to be competent at fineneedlework, weaving, herbal medicine, and playingmusical instruments such as the lute and virginal. But a girls most essential skill, learned byobserving her mother and the adult women in otherhouseholds, was to obey her male relatives, includingher brothers, without being meek-what historian J.Barbara Harris calls "subordinate agency," a termthat reflects the contradictions built into theirposition.3 Excluding girls from studying Latin, thelanguage of legal and official documents such as landtransactions, manorial accounts, and court rolls,reinforced their dependence on males.
  56. 56. Vermeers Lady Seated at a Virginal, ca. 1 6 73. Playing the virginaland other instruments was an important skill for elite women. (photo credit 2.2) In addition to parental "apprenticeships," societieshad other, more direct methods, such as ritualstorytelling, to teach youth about marriage. Books,especially sacred texts, laid down rules. In Europeand North America, the Old and New Testaments andtheir interpretations were especially importantmarriage manuals that described patriarchalhusbands who honoured their obedient andsubmissive wives fashioned, as the Book of Genesis
  57. 57. explained, from their very ribs. The balance of powerwas clearly set out: "Wives, be subject to your ownhusbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the headof the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church,He Himself being the Saviour of the body. But as thechurch is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought tobe to their husbands in everything" (Ephesians 5: 22-24). At the same time, a good wife was "far moreprecious than jewels," and won her husbands lifelongtrust (Proverbs 3 1 : 10-1 1). The ideal biblical marriage was usuallymonogamous (despite polygamous characters in theOld Testament) and permanent (though divorceexisted) . Marital sex was designed to conceivechildren and to express mutual love, and wives hadsex only with their husbands, who might also havesex with their concubines. More practically, marriage was an economic anddomestic unit that formed the core of society. The"excellent wife" worked in and outside her home,earned money, and increased her familys property.As chatelaine and entrepreneur, she "rises while it isyet night and provides food for her household andportions for her maidens. She considers a field andbuys it, with the fruit of her hands she plants avineyard . . . . She seeks wool and flax, and works withwilling hands . . . . She perceives that her merchandiseis profitable." The excellent wife seldom rests; "herlamp does not go out at night" as she spins, weaves,and "makes linen garments and sells them; shedelivers sashes to the merchant." She is charitable,and gives to the poor and needy. Her reward is thather children call her blessed, and her husband praisesher above all other women (Proverbs 3 1 : 1 3-29). Marriage manuals almost exclusively centred onreligious texts and their interpretations, simplified forpopular edification. They varied greatly in content
  58. 58. and context, reflecting changing attitudes. Usuallythey were practical how-to guides predicated on anideal version of marriage, but they also offeredadvice on how to deal with the often difficult realitiesof life together. A fourteenth-century to-do (and to-be) list directedto the Italian bride advocated suppressing all tastes,interests, and habits that displeased the groom,including forthright speech and curiosity. FrancescoBarbaros highly influential essay "On Wifely Duties,"published in 1 4 1 5, prescribed a marriage lovinglyunified by wifely submission to husbandly control.Such advice was in part a response to the fear thatelite women were undermining their patriarchalsociety by using dowries to favour daughters oversons. In 1 523, Desiderius Erasmuss popular and much­translated colloquy "Marriage" considered thehorrors, in an era in which divorce was unknown, ofa drunken and brutal husband whose stepmotherhated his long-suffering wife. Erasmus advised her toresist the temptation to dump a full chamber pot onhis head (clearly not all abused women resisted thistemptation) and to employ sexual ploys to appeal tothe brutes good nature, however minuscule thatmight be. The marriage manuals directed to Protestant wivesin Germany, England, and North America between1 500 and 1 700 also defended male dominance asdivinely decreed but did introduce the notion ofmutuality between spouses. In the much-republishedA Godly Fonn of Household Government, Puritanpastors John Dod and Robert Cleaver exhortedspouses to love each other, husbands to exercisewisdom and restraint, and wives to remember theirmultitudinous duties: housekeeping, not wastinghousehold money, holding their tongues, and
  59. 59. presiding over an orderly home. Men had to earnmoney, obtain needed goods, conduct business, andact as family spokesperson. "The duty of the husbandis to be lord of all; and of the wife, to give account ofall, " they advised. Dod and Cleaver also painted adramatic picture of homes made wretched byslovenly or sottish wives, or by husbands heedless oftheir wives capacity for revenge. The influential clergyman William Gouge stressedwomens inferiority and subjection to her husbandbut at the same time counselled mutuality. "Of allother inferiors in a family, wives are far the mostexcellent, and therefore to be placed in the firstrank," he wrote conciliatorily. However, "among allother parties of whom the Holy Ghost requirethsubjection, wives for the most part are mostbackward. "4 Other popular essays on marriage denounced whatmust have been seen as common wifely behaviour:laughing, flirting, dressing immodestly, speaking outof turn, reading unsuitable books, eating too much,even reading letters without their husbandspermission. A widely read sixteenth-century writerdescribed the ideal wife as one who leapt early frombed "to start on the housework, without combing herhair and putting on stockings, with her shirtsleevesrolled up and her arms bare, getting the servants towork and giving the children their clothes to put on.What a joy to see her do the laundry, wash thesheets, sift flour, make bread, sweep the house, fillthe lamps, get lunch going, and then pick up hersewing needle. I dont think those women are anygood who do nothing but to sleep at midnight andarise at noon, telling dirty stories all evening."5 A sixteenth-century wedding play extolled the idealpeasant wife as one who knew how to stoke the fireand wash pots and pans, make good noodles, mill
  60. 60. grain and fatten oxen, guide pigs to market, and,once there, buy and sell shrewdly. From the Reformation and to this day, the sermonsand writings of Martin Luther, the great Reformationtheologian, have shaped the development of marriageand family life. His towering stature and (at the time)controversial marriage to former nun Katharina vonBora inspired an insatiable interest in his life andproduced a wealth of Luther-centric literature. Inaddition to his voluminous other writings, Table Talk,the memoirs of the many boarders and guests whoregularly dined at his table ("Make a note of this ! "Luther would exclaim. "Write it down ! ") hasprovided endless material for admirers and detractorsalike. Revered or reviled, the union of the formerreligious was an important and exciting marriageguide. Table Talk had no startling revelations but ratherdescribed the relationship between two intelligentand extremely busy people who seemed much likeother men and women. Martin respected and trustedKatharina but scolded her for chattering too muchduring meals-she was well educated, spoke Latin,and enjoyed the mens spirited discussions-becauselike his contemporaries, he believed that womenwere less rational than men. Their broad hips, hepointed out, were evidence of their child-bearingdestiny and so what little schooling girls neededshould focus on housekeeping and pious motherhood.The male and female spheres were separate anddivinely ordained, with husbands earning money andwomen running the household. Table Talk, however, also describes how much theLuther family reality deviated from these"principles." For one thing, Luther delegated much ofthe paid work to Katharina, who rose at four everymorning to give her enough time to manage not just
  61. 61. the Black Cloister, which was both family home andboarding house, but also a brewery, stables, andseveral gardens, including one outside the city limits.Katharina also supervised the Luther familys farms. But even in face of Katharinas masterfuladministration of most of the couples income­producing activities, Luther reserved his husbandlyright to ultimate control: "In the household I concedeto you the governance, saving only my right," he toldher. "For the rule of women never accomplishedanything good. God made Adam the lord of allcreatures so that he might rule all living things. Butwhen Eve persuaded him that he was a lord aboveGod, he thereby spoiled it all. We have that to thankyou women for . . . "6 Lady Sarah Penningtons immensely popular andmuch-reprinted An Unfortunate Mothers Advice(1761) described difficult relationships and offeredwomen practical advice to deal with them. What todo, she asked, if your husband is a chroniccomplainer, happy only when criticizing, and lessintelligent to boot? Her response: remember yourduty and your promise to love, honour, and obey. Sheadded one caveat: if your husband demands anunchristian act, it is your duty to disobey him. LikePenningtons, Victorian and post-Victorian marriageguides tended to focus more on marital strategies. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, manymarriage guides painted cautionary portraits of whatmarriage could be. Though many marriages wereperfect unions of kindred spirits, others were between"unmatched souls . . . held in hateful contiguity by alegal bond, but divided in heart by a torrent ofpassionate aversion."? An American writing in 1 871decried "modern" womens fashions: "A big hump,three big lumps, a wilderness of crimps and frills, ahauling up of the dress here and there, an enormous
  62. 62. hideous mass of false hair or bark piled on the top ofher head . . . while the shop windows tell us all daylong, of the paddings, whalebones, and springs,which occupy most of the space within that outsiderig. . . . How is a man to fall in love with such acompound, doubled and twisted, starched, comical,artificial, touch-me-not, wiggling curiosity?"8 In Modem Marriage: A Handbook (1 925), PaulPopenoe, known as the father of North Americanmarriage counselling, found men equally repulsive:"What pimply-faced, hollow-chested, greasy, flabbyspecimens many of them are; saturated with theproducts of constipation, flavored with nicotine andfusel oil, peppered with the germs of gonorrhea! Is itany wonder a superior girl looks over these fellows,thinks of being tied to one for life and havingchildren like him, and shudders?"9 (A eugenics expertwho believed that blacks were racially inferior,Popenoe argued against intermarriage and forregulating human reproduction for the good ofsociety. He also wrote the Ladies Home Journalslong-lived and wildly popular "Can This Marriage BeSaved?" column, based on case histories .) In Eves Daughters; or Common Sense for Maid, Wife,and Mother (1 882), Marion Harland presentedmarriage from the perspective of the disillusionednewlywed bride who must tolerate everything,including infidelity, "the heavy cross appointed foryou to carry" that is a sadly common "crime" thatwomen have to bear "because they must! " Andthrough all marriages trials and tribulations, awoman must remember always: better to lose hisaffection than his respect. 10 By the early twentieth century, Dr. Sylvanus Stallsclassics What a Young Wife Ought to Know and What aYoung Husband Ought to Know emphasized mutual
  63. 63. interests and suggested that a pre-nuptial campingtrip would be an excellent test of compatibility. Thehomemaker wife and mother and the providerhusband and father together form a complete unit,each sex superior in its own sphere. Moderation ineverything was the key: not too much sexualintercourse, not too many children, no extremeclothing such as corsets or high heels. Novels, devoured by the literate minority, providedintimate portraits of fictional marriages and, by thelate 1 820s, supplanted marriage manuals inpopularity. By the Victorian era, this genreproliferated, with the stories usually structured topreach moral messages contextualized within lifelikestories "on the There but for the Grace of Godcombined with the How like my life principles,"according to historian Judith Rowbotham in GoodGirls Make Good Wives. ll The ubiquity and influenceof novels prompted La Rochefoucauld-Doudeauville,in his Family Guide, to advise mothers to warn theirdaughters against reading novels, which, he warned,encouraged them to believe in a kind of happinessthat does not exist, thereby weakening their moralfibre. 12 In the United States, the Reverent DanielWise, author of The Young Ladys Counselor (1 857),commented caustically about "the multitude whoform their notions of love and marriage from sicklynovels, from theatrical performances, and fromflippant conversation."13 HOPE CHESTS AND COMING OUTMost western European and North American girlsexpected to marry, and all the literature influencedtheir expectations. And they were keenly aware ofthe domestic dimensions of marriage and the need to
  64. 64. establish their own households. Their female relativeshelped out by contributing to a hope chest, the nameitself an acknowledgment of the very real possibilitythat not all girls would find these hoped-forhusbands. The hope chest was a sturdy box-thoughit could also be a drawer or part of a closet­dedicated to the accumulation of linens, silverware,and other essential household items. Hope chestsoriginated in medieval European peasant culturesand, by the last decades of the nineteenth centuryand the first of the twentieth, were an establishedtradition among both peasant and middle-class girlsin both Europe and North America. Hope chests were common in North Americanhomes until recent decades. As late as 1967, a studyof university students found that 38 percent wereassembling a hope chest. "In a sense, " the studyconcluded, "the hope chest represents on asymbolical level a young womans aspirations and ona reality level her concrete investment in the maritalestate prior to its onset. " 1 4 The annual birthdayspoon, Christmas tea cup, and Easter pillowcaseinculcated in the growing girl her communitys valuesand expectations, and framed marriage in essentiallydomestic terms. The privileged classes had different priorities, chiefamong them the snaring of socially and financiallysuitable spouses. After the Industrial Revolutioncreated a bourgeoisie so wealthy that its memberscould aspire to marrying into the aristocracy, amarketplace in which to introduce and match eligibleyoung men and women was needed. The social"coming out" of debutantes provided both venue andritual. These debutantes, usually seventeen oreighteen years old, were launched into adult societyduring the social season of balls, dinners, and formalvisiting. In England, young belles were presented in
  65. 65. one of the drawing rooms at the Court of St. Jamess;elsewhere, the ceremony was held at royal courts,grand ballrooms, or hotels. The debutantes required a facility for dancing,singing, or playing a musical instrument, anunderstanding of societys rules and customs, and amodicum of beauty or at least handsomeness. Theseattributes were, of course, offered within the contextof her parents social status, reputation, and wealth,and the dowry and connections she would bring toher marriage. Debutantes had one season to find a husband, Aprilto August in England and usually from November toJanuary in North America. In the United States, asearly as 1 748, fifty-nine families in Philadelphia held"Dancing Assemblies" that introduced young womento polite society and, hopefully, to their futurehusbands. Failure to make a match was adisappointment for both the young woman and herparents . She could still marry but, shopworn andeclipsed by each seasons newcomers, she had tolower her sights as her prospects worsened. In the antebellum American South, teenaged girlsleft their schooldays behind to come out into society,meet and enchant a suitable beau, and afterwardmarry him and devote the rest of their days tokeeping house and raising children, just as theirmothers had. That was, as diary after diary reveals,the problem: though they flung themselves into thesocial round that coming out involved, revelling inthe chance to dress fashionably and to show off theircultivated young beauty, "they proved remarkablyresistant to the intended purpose of this stage of life:finding a husband, " writes historian Anya Jabour inScarletts Sisters. I S One such resister was North Carolinian PenelopeSkinner, who staved off marrying by flirting,
  66. 66. attracting then rejecting one suitor after another: inthree years, she sent thirty suitors packing. InWashington, D. C., Laura Wirt declined threeproposals and declared, "I do not fall in love. "16 Likemost other eligible young women, Penelope andLaura eventually married, but only after years ofindulged freedom as unattached "belles" still "on theCarpet. " Debutantes at the Tidal Basin, Washington, D. C. (photo credit 2.3)
  67. 67. A delighted debutante in her designer evening gown, ca. 1 91 6. (photo credit 2.4)
  68. 68. Debutantes in 1 923, likely before they began a dance rehearsal thatincluded the CharlestoTL Their accompanist is playing from popular songbooks. (photo credit 2.5) When Penelope finally fell in love with andmarried Thomas Warren, a physician whose workoften took him away from home, she suffered greatlyfrom loneliness. "I have nothing to do but to think onmy sorrows-while you have your business to attendto & young companions to associate with," shecomplained. "Being absent from you has the sameeffect on me that sickness has-it perfectly subduesme-makes me as meek & gentle as possible." 1 7 Lauramarried Thomas Randall and, heartsick at leaving herfamily ("My heart falters . . . dies within me . . . 1 killmyself by dwelling on this")-moved with him to aFlorida homestead. 18
  69. 69. Penelope Warren became pregnant almost at once,and concentrated on taking great care of herself: inletters to her husband, she described her healthfuldiet, "loose" clothes, "troublesome" but "hardly at allpainful" hemorrhoids, and determinedly cheerfulspirits. In January 1 841 she gave birth to a daughterand, in sad justification of her dread of childbirth,died shortly after. 19 Laura Wirt Randall did not die but, despite a whitenurse and several slave women, was exhausted byrepeated pregnancies and nursing infants: "I declareif I thot I was to be thus occupied for the rest of mylife, I wd-I was going to say-lie down & die. It wdbe a slavery beyond that of all the galleys-& for alifetime too ! " Laura was even unhappier about hermarriage and husband, whom she no longer loved. "Iam now, as my husband declares the most miserable,poor, good-for-nothing woman he ever saw. "20 In patrician England, where money and statusweighed more heavily than love, expectations werecorrespondingly different. In the 1 870s, debutanteAlice Catherine Miles navigated the season and kept afrank account of it in her diary. Alices family was toolarge to allow her a good income, and even atseventeen, she knew that she could satisfy herexpensive tastes only by parlaying her connectionsand beauty into marrying a man with at least £5,000per year. At the same time, her modest means putvery rich men, like flirtatious young Henry CharlesKeith Petty-Fitzmaurice, 5th Marquess of Lansdowne-he had inherited an estate of 1 40,000 acres inBritain and Ireland-out of bounds, so that payingattention to his advances wasted precious time(though he was scarcely serious; she was too poor forconsideration). Alice understood that she could nevercompete with the likes of Miss Harriet Ives Wright,"rather a pretty little heiress . . . who I suspect will put