Monday, October 13, 2014

Et Ux*: A legal and societal history of marriage

 Wedding party, 1909, New Orleans.

This is one of those "fools rush in" type topics, as even in the last few days I've learned that this is currently such a bitterly debated topic, that people who might not otherwise want to engage a person in a debate will.  This post of mine is one of those trying to look at a historical topic, rather than my wonderings into current topics, even if it is topical to some degree.  I thought about not posing at all, but I was curious about the historical angle.

Recently, anyhow, the topic of marriage has been in the news a lot.

Perhaps it always is, really, as even though we live in an era when an increasing number of people in the western world forgo marriage, at least at the onset of keeping house, than ever before, people remain as fascinated with the topic as ever.  Indeed, I'd argue that they are more fascinated now than at any time in human history, just as people are more fascinated with people having large families than ever before.  But by noting the newsworthiness of the topic, what I am (fairly obviously) referencing the recent court battles on the definition of marriage, and whether the U.S. Constitution must be read to allow same gender marriages, a proposition that the drafters of the Constitution would have found frankly impossible.  Indeed, John Marshall was of the view that topics on marriage were matters solely for the states to decide, and I suspect that if he were alive now he'd be riding the old circuits (which Supreme Court justices actually did, rather than just sitting at the Supreme Court) whacking Circuit Court judges upside the head for ignoring the original set of opinions that allowed the Court to actually survive and function, rather than be turned into a pawn of the national legislature.  Anyhow, that evolution, i.e., that it can even be discussed, is what brings this topic up here now, as this blog tracks historical trends amongst other things, and this one oddly enough directly relates into the era which we're attempting, sort of, to focus on .  So we're looking at marriage in this topic.

 Young couple getting married, early 1940s. This photo is somewhat unusual as at the time men generally wore suits, not tuxedos, at their weddings.  The same is true of the earlier photograph just above.

Marriage as a human institution has existed since time immemorial.  In spite of the recent discussions on what it means now, what it traditionally has been defined to be is an institution designed to govern the relationship between the two genders and their activities recognizing that the two genders are, by their natures, ordered towards the production of children.

Note here right from the onset what I didn't say.  I didn't say that marriage was designed to govern the relationship between two parents with children.  As an institution, it's origin is children-centric, but it isn't children exclusive.  The definition is much broader than that, recognizing the societal problems that order creates.
 Newly married couple, 1919.  The bride was President Wilson's White House cook, the groom a soldier.  Note the fairly plain clothing.
And note what word I didn't use, that word being "love".

This is pretty significant, no matter what a person might now think, as the traditional purpose for marriage is quite distinct, and it also has nothing whatsoever to do with love.  If you are married, I hope you love your spouse, but love isn't actually what marriage is about in terms of a human institution and there are a lot of instances of marriages occurring in various conditions and circumstances, including some discussed here, where romantic love was not an element.  Indeed, some have even gone so far to suggest that that at one time the notion of romantic love was absent from most marriages outside of modern times and outside of European culture although the better evidence is that, to varying degrees, that view tends to be bunk when over applied.**

Anyhow, the reason that this institution exists in all cultures, everywhere, is that the two genders being ordered towards the production of children creates an entire series of societal problems that have to be handled somehow.  For the most obvious, it's in society's interest that the parents of children raise and provide for them.  If that doesn't happen, somebody has to do it, and that creates its own problems.  If just the mother is left doing it, that also creates its own problems.  So some societal vehicle to handle this was necessary and always has been.  Indeed, to the extent that these are now considered to be less of a concern than they once were, it isn't due to our being so much more enlightened that prior generations, but so much wealthier.

A destitute mother with children looks into the house of a mother with her daughter and doll.  In prior eras, a woman with children but no spouse was often reduced to desperate poverty.

By we being wealthier, I should qualify that to mean Europeans and North Americans. The whole world is getting wealthier, but we aren't all there yet.  For an example of how things used to work, a recent issue of the National Geographic discussed workers in Bahrain who work hard construction jobs and send their pay back home to their wives and families who depend on them. They see their families, if they are lucky, about once a year. That's the way the whole world used to sort of work to some degree.  Indeed, in our own history, immigrant men who came over years before their families were common, as was male immigrants who built up a reserve of money and then returned home. The entire time, those families depended upon a husband and father they never saw.

 Procession in Bedouin wedding.

Marriage also was necessary because the ordering itself tends to make for societal problems if not controlled in some way.  Who has some sort of deep psychological claim on another?  Whose property is whose?  Who may call on me in a time of need?  Who is likely to react violently if I pay attention towards another that ignores some element of this?  If somebody gets ill, who is going to take care of them?  All of these are pretty big deals to most cultures, and even in our own, even if we don't often realize it.  We do a really bad job of dealing with some of these problems now, and no matter how advanced we may believe ourselves to be, the old problems reappear continually.  In the last few years, for example, this area has seen several murders which are based on the old law of "you are my woman", resulting in the death of the spouse or former spouse, or in once case for the new contender for her hand.  No, this isn't right, but it still occurs.  And in less ordered societies, it not only occurs, but its essentially license or even mandated by the culture itself.  "You've dishonored us" is still a relatively common basis for murder in the Middle East, for example.

And, as noted, illness in our society is certainly still an issue, but it was a bigger issue in earlier eras.  To sit by somebody's bedside as they died, and support them in their decline, was the human norm, not the exception.  This burden was born first by the spouse, and then by the children, an arrangement all reinforced by the institution of marriage.

 Two members of the Chilean diplomatic mission to the United States marry in Washington D.C., 1938.

Fairly obviously, therefore, the "traditional" definition of marriage has an opposite gender component.  No matter what a person thinks about this topic one way or another, we owe it to honesty to acknowledge that as addressing the topic isn't even possible if we don't do that.  And that's the reality of it through history.  And as might as well be noted, for almost all of human history acting on one of basic instincts is quite likely to result in children, although seemingly in our modern age many people and the entire entertainment industry are unaware of that.  While our entertainment industry is seemingly oblivious to this fact, even the most aboriginal of societies are not, so there's always been an institution of marriage.

Okay, so it involved opposite genders. But what also did it traditionally feature, and how has that changed, and when?  What we'd find is that traditionally, it's deeply personal, it tended not to involve the state at all, it was hard to break the ties that it created, and ignoring the institution was risky even to the point of death.

 Japanese woodcut showing a betrothal ceremony. No, I have no idea what is going on in it.

Let's break that down a bit.

In breaking it down I'm going to admittedly concentrate on European history for the past 2000 years or so, but not always strictly stick to it.  This isn't to say that marriage was created 2000  years ago, it wasn't.  And its not to say that its European, that wouldn't be true either.  But I don't know as much about the institution further back than that in other localities, other than that it existed, so my focus will be smaller.  If somebody is an expert on marriages in other localities, say like in ancient or Medieval Japan, for all means I hope they stop in and fill us in.

What we can say, however, is that almost everywhere marriages originally featured some sort of public recognition of the state of marriage in some forms, but that was originally personal to the participants.  A ceremony in public acknowledgement of it, in some fashion, is the human norm (but in fact not always so, and not always regarded as necessary for it to exist), but a license from the state is not the historical norm.  Usually, or probably almost always, the marriage had a religious component to it most places, although perhaps oddly enough, it did not have to in early Christian Europe, even for Christians.

Marriage license of Faro and Doris Caudill. Notice that the license was issured in Nolan County, Texas. They came directly to Pie Town to homestead after the marriage in February of 1933. Pie Town, New Mexico
Framed State of Texas Marriage License, early 20th Century.  Apparently at one time the framing of marriage licenses was common, although I've never seen anyone do it. The custom must have passed away.  For that matter, the framing of diploma and diploma like certificates seems to be passing away.  I used to see a lot of framed Army discharges, but no longer do.  And even a lot of lawyers (myself included) omit framing and hanging their diplomas.

Marriage licenses as a western institution didn't come about until the Reformation.   And they didn't come about for reasons that are warm and fuzzy, and certainly not for reasons that had to do with "love".  Prior to the Reformation, the norm in the Christian world was for marriage to be acknowledged in a ceremony in Church, but often missed is that it was the participants that basically create the marriage, and generally this is still actually the case.  It arguably (but not necessarily clearly) have been necessary early in Church history to be married in a Church at all, and the Church has always recognized marriages that were done outside of the Church, with certain qualifications, to include marriages between people who aren't Christian at all. That's because the vows between the people are what creates the marriage.  The Church came to require a ceremony for members because Clandestine Marriages were becoming a societal problem.  Clandestine Marriages were ones where people exchanged vows outside of the presence of witnesses, and they had the feature of having one person later often disavowing them which was a big problem. If one was disavowed, and done so rapidly, at least one of the people involved would feel like a fool, and that was the best of the numerous potentially bad outcomes. So the Church came to require witnesses in order to avoid this problem, and acting within its authority decreed future Clandestine Marriages of Church members to to be invalid.  Here, however, it should be noted that this requirement only applied to Church members, and the Church has always continued to regard marriages contracted by those outside the Church in other fashions as valid. So the reasoning behind these rules is not often understood.

Marriage licenses, on the other hand, came about as various governments wanted to keep track of who was getting married.

Originally their desire to track who was getting married. In countries such as England, where the Reformation was in full swing,  the Protestant Crown wanted to track and prevent, Catholics from getting married.  By criminalizing and invalidating, through the authority of the crown, any marriage that the Crown didn't license, the state was making a powerful statement about a variety of things.  This same purpose spread to other countries where there was a strong separation between the government and its citizenry, sometimes on religious grounds, and sometimes on purely secular grounds where the state basically regarded itself as supreme in all things.  This also created some intended and unintended consequences, some of which are still with us, and others which are not.  One odd enduring legacy, to Americans, is that a few European countries, such as Germany and Italy, require two marriage ceremonies, or at least one civil one.  People will frequently get married in a church, and then travel to the clerk's office for the civil ceremony.  Those who were following, for some reason, the recent second marriage of George Clooney would have noted this, as that's the Italian requirement, a refection of an era when the government was hostile the Church.  In the US, we've just stuck with the British norm, which allows a minister authorized to perform the ceremony to sign the license, thereby providing proof that the license was used.  Our license, therefore, are almost like hunting licensees to some degree, you have to sign off on their use.

Of the intended consequences, one thing that this achieved was to allow the state to restrict the bounds of the institution of marriage.  Prior to this, there were societal constraints in concept.  Some societies restricted marriages to single partners, i.e., one man and one woman.  Others recognized plural marriages, i.e., one many and several women, or more uncommonly one woman and several men (very rare).  A few societies that tended towards plural marriages also recognized a state of near marriage that had many of the same attributes but which was slightly less formal, with it often being the case that in such societies the man in the picture was married, with one or more women also attached by the less formal bonds but typically part of the same household.  In some societies those women were held in what amounted to slavery.  In others, however, they freely contracted for their position and were afforded a degree of recognition under the law (the Japanese Imperial household comes to mind in those regards).  Contrary to what one my expect, however, in societies that recognized plural marriages or near plural marriages, they were always regarded as a problem and not a desirable state to be in.  So they tend to be sort of tolerated, rather than admired.

Once the state entered the picture, generally this tended to be regulated in varying degrees, although it was also always very much the case that religion tended to define the validity of marriages as well.  Before anyone might tend to get critical about that, that actually made a great deal of sense, and this was a common attribute of all religions, not just Christianity, and again the human norm was for society and religion to define how these divergent gender relationships came about, rather than the state.  Once the state entered the picture, however, it regulated these aspects of marriages, to include such examples as not recognizing the marriages of certain religions, not recognizing plural marriages (in some instances), controlling the age at which people could marry, controlling the degree of consanguinity to which a person could marry, preventing marriage between different races, requiring tests for disease, preventing marriages between those who were deemed not to have sufficient mental abilities and so on.

As another byproduct of this process, at least in some localities and very common in the US, the concept came about that the State can marry you.  This is really fairly close to the old concept that the couple marries itself (still the theological norm in traditional Christianity) with the State being the witness through an appointed officer, such as a Judge or lawyer, but in many people's minds its different, and the State is viewed as having some power to do this.  It's an interesting concept.  Of course in some countries this is very much the case.

At the same time, and not related to the state's original desire to license marriage, the government keeping track and recognizing marriages in some fashion became important at the exact same time for a completely different reason, that being property.

 Home supervisor helping young farm couple work out home plan. Group meeting, York, Nebraska
Young farm couple filling out paperwork on a home plan.

Marriage has always had a property and asset attribute to it, but it didn't really become significant until the end of the Middle Ages.
Well attired American Indian couple.  A couple like this, just a decade or two before this photo was taken, would have had property, but it would have been physical property capable of being easily identified as to owner, including the owner upon one person's death.

In an aboriginal state of existence, there is very little in the way of property to worry about, and most of the property that exists, is directly applied by the owners all the time, so there's little doubt about who owns it.  In a society like that, inheritance is irrelevant as there's so little property to pass on.  The condition of widows is significant, but traditionally the society took care of that by making her situation the province and duty of near relatives.  This is very similar  to the situation that's presented by pastoral people, who are really near in terms of habits to aboriginal people in some fashion.  Societies that were based on herdsmanship really tend to only have livestock as property, and an inheritance situation is pretty manageable.

Its once you get to the ownership of land that things really change.  But for much of the Medieval period, this didn't matter as all the land was owned by the Feudal class. Once this began to change a little, however, the situation is one that must be managed by the sovereign, as a sovereign cannot have uncertainty as to who owns what in the country.  Moreover, working land requires a lot of hard work, and the division of land into parcels that are too small is destructive to farm productivity (something that Americans still have not learned).  So, leave a widow with no land, and she becomes destitute, leave her with all the land, and the children are destitute.  Society had to control the distribution of the assets of estates, and by necessity it also needed, at that point, some means of tracking who was married.  This became one of the prime features of state licensed marriage, and it remains so today.  Indeed, this is probably at its most important today, in part because by any standard, our society today is richer and has more property than in comparison to any point in its past.  Indeed, the fact that marriage has become less common, while this concern, and that of children from male female unions remains, we have the ironic situation of finding that a lot of the very old concerns fully remain, and its often the concern for children, or the byproducts of death, that make plain the concerns of former eras most plain.

It was those concerns that also grave rise to certain institutions and laws concerning marriages, which have now been largely or partially forgotten. Perhaps the most evident of these was, and is, the "common law" marriage.

The same forces that brought about the state issuance of marriage licenses in the first instance ultimately brought about, to some degree, the creation of common law marriages.  The Reformation in England left so many questions unanswered and such a titanic set of struggles of conscience that it ultimately caused the partial breakdown of religion and social cohesion in that country.  The Industrial Revolution somewhat worsened that situation as people became disconnected from the towns and villages with which they previously had a very strong connection, and took to large disorienting cities.  This caused some (it turns out not to be nearly as large of percentage as at one time believed to dispense with the formalities of marriages including the license. As the problems that marriage is designed to address still existed, the English courts created the concept of "common law" marriage, which held that if a couple lived like husband and wife and held themselves out as husband and wife, they were married.  Thus the courts operated to recreate a condition, in order to solve a problem, with the condition arising due to some people skipping the formalities that would normally have resolves all doubts as to their status, and at the same time making sure the condition was addressed such that any problems were handled.

Common law marriages were one side of a coin.  The flip side made living together outside of marriage, and denying the existence of a common law marriage, illegal.  That's generally less well known, but as a common law marriage does require the outward consent to society believing that a couple was married, denying that state existed meant a couple was not married, and that was a crime.  That may seem odd now to people, but again it existed for a reason. By denying the married state, the couple was subjecting society to the risk that it would end up responsible for a child or perhaps a woman and a child. And the couple was subjecting society to the risk that a dispute over ownership of property would end up burdening the courts.  As with many topics that caused societal problems in most eras prior to our own, that saw expression in the criminal law.

Here I'll take a brief break, to ask one of the series of questions I'll start to from here.  Does anyone know anyone who has contracted or common law marriage, or do you know of anyone of your ancestors who have?  I know of a couple I've run across as a lawyer, although one was a belated failed attempt in which a woman whose live in had substantial assets had never married him, and had been proud of that fact prior to his death.  When he died, she lost everything, and took a belated unsuccessful run at arguing that there was a common law marriage.  In the other instance, there was a common law marriage, but no divorce.  Indeed, the male hadn't divorced twice, the other time from a licensed marriage, but had been married three times. That's not a good situation.

The same concerns that gave rise to common law marriage also saw expression in the civil law as well. Acts such as cheating on a spouse, and contacts regarded as appropriate only within the confines of marriage where generally criminal in nature, but acts that caused a person to leave a spouse subjected the enticing party to civil litigation.  This allowed the offended party to attempt to address not only the emotional injury, but the financial one. And, as is well known but less well understood, breaking an engagement also subjected a person to civil litigation.  "Breach of Promise" may seem hopelessly antiquated now, but it was an action that made sense in context as the offended party may have given up a great deal upon the promise, and therefore that person's chances of regaining a betrothed state may have been diminished.  Bringing such an action was rare, as people were in fact rarely actually injured by the change of heart, but the action emphasized the seriousness of the entire topic.

Divorce was also much harder to obtain, as societies interest in protecting itself did not coincide with people breaking the bond.  At one time in much of European history, divorce was not obtainable at all, and its only fairly recently that its been made legal in some European countries.  It's always existed in the United States, however, as it came in on a very limited basis in reformation England.  It typically required a real offense in order to be awarded.  In some non European cultures obtaining a divorce for at least men was extremely easy, although not quite as easy as some might sometimes believe.  It is still the case in Islamic countries in the Middle East that a man can simply declare the divorce to exist orally, and it does.  Its sometimes believed that in the Jewish faith divorce is easy to obtain, but this is actually incorrect as a recognized divorce, called a "Get" is a special process.  In most uniformly Catholic countries in Europe divorce wasn't recognized until after World War Two.

As an aside here, as it relates to this story, its sometimes commonly asserted that the Episcopal Church (the Church of England) brought divorce to England, but that's incorrect.  The story often is that Henry VIII took England out of the Catholic Church, as he wanted a "divorce".  He didn't want a divorce, however, he wanted an annulment.  When he declared himself to be the head of the Church in England, that's what he was aiming for. The Church of England itself did not recognize divorces as recently as at least the 1940s, and it might not actually formally recognize them now.

By the second quarter of the 20th Century much of this was breaking down for a variety of reasons, and the "heart balm statutes", such as "breach of promise" went out.  Divorce evolved towards "no fault" divorce in some states, as divorces became more common and people simply lied in order to create the conditions allowing the court to award a divorce, thereby reflecting the odd situation of people having so much respect for the state's powers that they would lie to obtain them, ignoring the fact that the lie basically made the decree intellectually invalid.  No fault divorce ultimately became the rule everywhere in the US, I think.  Nearly all of the criminal law that existed on this topic fell, save for the laws addressing polygamy.  Ironically, as the laws regarding acts outside of marriage fell, certain conduct greatly increased, and its arguably now the case that laws protecting the underaged are so much more in play now as the conduct the earlier laws sought to restrain have become so much broader.  That is, conduct was legalized, except where it involved the underaged, which seems to potentially have exposed the underaged to more harm given the increase of activity of all types.

So what does this have to do with our era of a century ago?  Well, quite a bit really.  Some novelist have tended to treat the topic of the relationship between men and women as if such topics were almost subject to the standards of our day, or even a standard well below that of our own, but that's simply not true.  This does not mean that everyone acted according to the standards, but novelist who depict a lot of out of marriage activity are taking real liberties  In contrast, the conditions of marriage in earlier eras are rarely accurately depicted, except perhaps when something really novel, such as "mail order" marriages are looked at. Those did exist, but they were never the norm.  Marriages of necessity and convenience tend not to be looked at all, as they simply aren't very romantic stories, but those were undoubtedly more common than the mail order type.

Mail order brides, just noted above, were a real feature of late 19th Century and early 20th Century American life in Frontier Eras.  It gets some attention now, as it seems so bizarrely odd, but that's because we're used the concept of romantic love being the predominate feature of a marriage.  Romantic love has always existed, and exists in all cultures (contrary to what anthropologist once believed) but it has not always been regarded as an absolute prerequisite to a marriage and its never been regarded at any time as a legal or societal one.  In the Christian world, intent and the ability to form intent is regarded as critical to contracting a marriage, and always has been, but romantic love has not been.  Practicalities of Frontier Life pushed that notion so far into back arena that it removed itself entirely when mail order brides were concerned, with it being regarded as preferable to simply obtain a spouse.  I'm familiar with one family today which had a mail order arrangement, and according to their descendants, they didn't even appear to particularly like each other, at least in later years, although they always stayed married.  Mail order brides, of course, still exist, or perhaps have returned, with the Internet.  I frankly find it bizarre in this modern context, but perhaps that shows that we're somehow replicating the conditions that gave rise to this practice, in some fashion, in our modern world.

In the late 19th and early 20th Century, the way this basically worked is that people responded to newspaper advertisements, sometimes placed by the prospective brides themselves, or sometimes by brokers.  While not universally the case, the women tended to be single European immigrants of distinct cultures, so their changes of marriage might otherwise be poor.  So, young Scandinavian women, or German women, who had bad chances otherwise, might opt for this, as a chance of improving their circumstances or at least of leading a somewhat normal life. Those ordering the brides tended to be Frontier males, in societies that were overwhelmingly male, hoping for a more normal life themselves.  The concept we have of people feeling the East for a wild life on the Frontier is often quite inaccurate really, and many of these men were simply economic immigrants hoping for a better, but normal, life.  Part of that life included a spouse and children, even if that meant acquiring a spouse that they neither loved nor even knew.

If any reader here is familiar personally with a "mail order" bride situation, or has one in their family that they're aware of, I'd love to hear about it.  Please post with the story, if you are willing.

Arranged marriages are less common in North American history, but were extremely common with European nobility.  These marriages were just that, arrangements, and usually set out in economic or political terms.  They tend to be really spotty in terms of success, and while they virtually never resulted in divorce, they did result in a lot of cheating and separations. They also resulted in some real heartbreak, as the human heart being what it is, in both the mail order and the arranged marriage situation, some very strong attachments did ultimately form, with it sometimes being the case that only one person felt them.

I can't think of any real examples of North American arranged marriages. The closest I can think of was one that didn't occur, in which the family of a World War Two Greek American serviceman, who as in his 30s when drafted, sent away for a Greek woman from the village which they had originally come from, without telling him.  When he returned from the war, he refused to enter into the marriage, but it worked out.  He found and married somebody else, and the woman stayed and found a husband, so everyone basically ended up with what they'd hoped for.  One couple I very dimly knew who did have an arranged marriage were Indians from India, whose parents had arranged the marriage when they were very young. They later immigrated to the United States and they seemed perfectly content with the results of the arrangement.

Again, if you know of an arranged marriage, let me know the details, we'd love to hear about it.

It'd be nice to know more about the ages that people generally married in the era we're looking at, and some of that data is surprising.  People tend to think that everyone from earlier years got married very young, and its certainly the case in our own era that in urban areas the average age of marriages has gone up considerably.  But our perception isn't wholly accurate.  Much of this particular aspect of marriage depends upon the stability of the culture in question, and economic conditions, and this can vary accordingly within ethnic groups within a single culture.

When looked at closely, cultures in the past that had younger ages for marriages often were fairly rural and highly stable.  That may seem odd, but it makes sense.  Generally, in those cultures we tend to find that not much changes overall.  People do not move a great deal, if at all. They did not come into contact with a lot of new people as a rule. And their economic situation was what it was, even if that was not a truly wealthy condition to live in.  Given that, marriage ages tended towards the young as by a person's mid teens they'd probably entered a lifetime occupation, if male, and both genders probably knew about everyone they were likely to.  The one added thing we see there is that often the young age for marriage is more a female thing, than a male thing, although not universally so.  That probably  had to do with the high female death rate, as many men in their 20s and 30s were widowers. So we seem men in their 20s, or even 30s (or occasionally older) marrying women all the way down to their mid teens. But we also see teenager marrying as well.  It seems almost shocking to us, but considering that they were of age, and had entered the adult world, etc., from a social and personal prospective, it makes sense.  It doesn't make much sense to us now as people haven't entered the adult world by that age and usually aren't well established in anything either.

At the same time, however, we see ethnic groups, or even whole cultures, in poverty where this simply is not the case at all.  The Irish, both in Ireland and in their diaspora, are a good example.  The Irish usually didn't marry until their late 20s or their 30s, for men or women.  The reason is that economics simply prohibited.  It was a lot easier to live in the family home until the age where you were really somewhat economically stable, or had inherited something, or conditions would simply no longer allow it, then to enter into a risky economic relationship.  This runs very much counter to our view of the Irish really, as having large families, etc. as in reality, as a rule, people of Irish culture or ethnic heritage simply did not marry until they were well established or older.  My own parents, who had strong Irish heritage, were in their 30s when they married.

Irish farm couple in the old country.  In looking at the photo, by modern standards we'd probably guess their ages as being at least in their 60s, but with the hard conditions they lived in at the time, I'd guess that this couple is in their 50s.

This same concern depressed marriage ages for entire generations, in some instances.  In the entire Western world, for example, marriage rates went way down during the 1930s, due to the Great Depression. The country really only pulled out of the Depression due to World War Two, and while the war brought on the phenomenon of quicky marriages in droves by soldiers and their brides who were young, it also meant that soldiers who were older, and a lot of U.S servicemen were in their late 20s and early 30s, with ages up into the 40s not uncommon, tended to wait even longer.  Quite a few men of marriageable age who served in World War Two had years removed from that part of their lives, and so it wouldn't be uncommon at all to find men who were in their early 30s when conscripted at the beginning of World War Two existing the service in 1945 or 1946 as unmarried men now in their late 30s.  Events like that is what really caused the legendary Baby Boom, as an entire generation that had lived suspended lives in the 1930s and 1940s felt the need to catch up.  Of course, it also brought on a host of social problems as well, as the normal development of much of their lives had not occurred, and its no surprise, therefore, that movement towards "no fault" divorces really took off following the Second World War.

Here's a place where I'll take a break in this thread and ask if anyone here has personal knowledge of a quick World War One or World War Two marriage.  I can think of one that I know of, which I'll note did not work out, which seems to have been a fairly common experience.

Likewise, another thing I'll ask here, even though I haven't dealt with it, is the topic of war brides.  War brides are, of course, marriages which occurred when  (mostly male) soldiers met their spouses overseas while serving in wartime.  I do know somebody whose parents were married under those circumstances, but very unusually, he was a wounded German POW, and she was an American nurse.  That was, suffice it to say, extremely unusual.

Getting back to the topics just raised and thinking of examples I'm personally familiar with, I don't know of anyone in my own family who ever married really young.  One older couple I know in which the surviving widow just died, however, I do know to have been in her mid teens as a bride, with her husband only being a couple of years older when they married. In that case, they were both from a highly stable Hispanic community when they married, and he was well employed at the time.  A person I once knew when I was a National Guardsmen had actually married his wife when she was only 13, an age I found shocking now and still do.  They were both teenagers at the time, and living in rural Louisiana.  At the time I knew them, they'd been married for a very long time.  One other couple I knew locally was the huge real exception as they'd married when they were 16, simply because they wanted to, and they were both high school students at the time. That amazingly worked out and the husband in that union went through a series of blue collar jobs to business ownerships and was a millionaire at the time of his death.  And one of the students that was in the same year I was in high school was married to a welder while we were in school, which seemed exceedingly odd then, and still does.  

 Young couple, 1920s. By their dress, this couple was probably at least Middle Class, if not well to do.  Ages, again, are hard to place in photos but even the caption of this photo regards this couple as "young".  My guess would be upper 20s, and that would have been a fairly common marriage age for a couple with means, in this era.

Due to societal changes, I largely think these really young marriages have basically passed away our in our culture, or perhaps I just don't know enough about who is getting married to really know.  Anyhow, I just don't know of this happening much anymore in our society and the conditions that caused it to be a viable option probably no longer exists.  We've extended adolescence out to the mid 20s, or even 30s, while in earlier eras we were probably terminating that status in the mid teens, so things in this category have really changed.  

Here again, I'll ask the question.  If you have personal familiarity with this category, let us know.

While addressing young marriages, I might as well address "shotgun marriages", which I think largely a myth really.

The term shotgun marriage is a term that at one time everyone knew, but which I'd guess is largely now a forgotten term amongst the young.  And I don't believe that they were really ever very common. What the term referred to is a forced marriage, as the female participant was expecting without the benefit of marriage.  The "shotgun" comes into it, in the manner that the Jody call I learned at Ft. Sill while in Basic Training suggests:

Around the block, she pushed a baby carriage
She pushed in the Summer and the Merry Month of May
And when they asked her why the heck she pushed it
She pushed it for her soldier who was far, far away.
Far away.
Far away
She pushed it for her soldier who was far, far away.

Behind the door, her father kept a shotgun
He kept in the Summer and the Merry Month of May.
And when they asked him why the heck she kept it.
He kept for her soldier who was far far away.
Far away.
Far away
He kept it for her soldier who was far, far away.
"She Wore A Yellow Ribbon".

Yes, by the way, that Jody Call is the same song that the John Ford movie She Wore A Yellow Ribbon features so prominently, although Ford's troopers don't sing the lyrics that far into the song.

Anyhow, a forced marriage actually is invalid by definition, so if a person truly was forced into marriage in this fashion, they probably didn't give valid consent to it, and obtaining an annulment would be relatively easy.  Having said that, what actually more likely occurred is that couples in this circumstance consented to marriage as  economically, the women was now in a real fix, and legally, they were both in a real bind. And it was embarrassing.

Beyond that, I'll note, something that you'll tend to find fairly frequently in this situation is an outside male stepping up to the plate.  It seems to have been surprisingly common, and a person would have to really know the whole story to know the reason. At any rate, it's not hard to find examples of a young woman being in this situation and some other man entering the picture and marrying her.  It would be easy to suggest that the woman's situation was dictated by financial concerns, but quite often it seems to be the case that the alternative marriage was very freely consented to.  It almost seems to be the case that what the male motivation was amounted to the classic "carrying a torch" situation, with there being one last chance, and the female motivation was "what the heck was I thinking".  These marriages tended to be extremely stable, and very often the male fully assumed the full responsibility for everything, and the actual departing father essentially conspired in silence.  No doubt there are many people running around today with family trees they have researched which are actually wholly in error due to this.  A close friend of mine is actually aware of this having happened in his family, with the actual lineage departing when a female ancestor found her self in embarrassing circumstances with a rich male employer, but with some outside male stepping up to the plate.
Let's also look at this in terms of culture and class.

Generally, people tend to marry within their own cultures and class, if they can, as a rule.  This has always been true, but it tended to be more true in the past than it is now, which isn't to say that it doesn't occur now.

There are a lot of reasons for this, and its one of the areas where people like to attach some sort of conspiracy theory to the topic, but frankly the basic reason is quite natural and this still tends to be the rule today, although its less the case than it once was.  Basically, in spite of the old assertion that "opposites attract", people tend to marry people who are like themselves in some ways. Opposites attract, but the attraction doesn't tend to really lead to lasting relationships really.

So, people generally and naturally tend to marry within their social and economic groups.  Traditionally, and as is still the case today, they also tend to marry within their general cultures.

For most of human history, and still today but less so than it once was, religion has been a huge aspect of this, and its tended to manifest itself in this cultural category in very interesting ways.  Generally, of course, in most old world cultures almost everyone in any one region is of the same culture, religion and economic class to start with, so a person doesn't really have to consider that much in that context.  So, for example, if we're looking at a couple living in Paderborn Germany in the 1830s, they're going to be marrying a German Catholic spouse, almost certainly.  Or, if a person is living in rural Norway in 1913, they're going to be almost certainty marrying a Norwegian Lutheran.  Not absolutely certainly, however, as even in those circumstances you can find exceptions to the rule.

Still, in the old world, even where cultures were somewhat mixed, the tendency remained for people to marry within their cultures. German Jews, for example, tended to marry other German Jews, but certainly not exclusively so.  German Lutherans tended to marry German Lutherans, and not German Catholics, but there was more cross over than a person might suppose.  So the general trend was there, but it wasn't absolute.

Where things really being to get interesting, in this context, is in the New World, and more specifically North America, where cultures ended up coming in contact with each other that never had, and so the importance of varying concerns becomes more evident. We still find that people tended to marry within their own ethnic backgrounds and religion, but that there was much more mixing than we'd generally suppose, and early on. What we find is that religion often took a much more important role in things than ethnic heritage did, so this says a lot about how people viewed their ethnicity as opposed to their religion.  In many areas of North American Catholic German populations mixed almost immediately with Catholic Irish populations, and intermarriage occurred right from the onset.  Likewise, German Catholic immigrants to northern Mexico intermarried nearly immediately, showing that they valued their religion much more than their ethnicity, in both the German and the Mexican cultures.  In a really old North American example, the French Quebecois tended to very much intermarry with any other Catholic population, meaning today that in reality the Quebecois are all descendant of Irish and Indian ancestors, as well as French ancestors.  In the American East, immigrant Jewish populations from Eastern Europe mixed early on as well, and while the immigrants might have represented centuries of presence in one region of Europe, once they arrived they intermarried quickly.

As time has gone on in North America "mixed marriages", in terms of religious diversity, have become more and more common, but religion still is a major concern to many couples.  Marriage stability has been shown to be much higher when couples do share the same religious faith so there's more than a little to it.  Mixed culture seems to be of less importance, and certainly in the American west today we see a lot of intermarriage between recently arrived Hispanics and the older general American ethnicity.  This is so much the case already that having a Spanish last name already means next to nothing in terms of ethnicity.  Of course, for cultures that do not have a European origin or influence of some sort, ethnicity and marriage can still be a huge factor, although again it seems that religion matters more than ethnicity. So where Christianity has influenced Asian populations, for example, immigrant Asian Christian populations intermarry fairly seamlessly with other groups in the United States.  Intermarriages between very divergent faiths, however, undoubtedly remain fairly rare.

That all has to deal with religion, but cultural heritage once seemed to play a fairly common role as well.  That may have had more to do with cultural geography, however ,than anything else, as it doesn't seem to continue to play a role within the larger culture very long.  I've never met anyone, for example, who thought that because they were of Scottish ancestry they had to marry another person of Scottish ancestry, and I don't even think that things like that happened in earlier eras.  Generally, what was probably the case where you have more than one generation of that type in the US, its because they were probably all of Scottish Presbyterian heritage, and that's who they tended to meet at church.  Indeed, meeting at church was at least a common way to meet up until fairly recently, and I've known more than one couple only a little older than myself who met at church.  My own parents met at church.

Economic status, and education, also have traditionally played a bit role and still do, although I suspect that there's a larger cultural aspect to this, at least based upon my own observations.  I don't think that its' common for a person to universally think that they must marry a person of equivalent economic status, although I do think at one time it was quite common for a person to be concerned about social standing, which is very directly related to that.  So, for example, when we look at the old money East Coast families, I don't think that they went out to marry people who were equally wealthy, but rather of equal social standing.  Indeed, many people have just recently watched the Ken Burns documentary The Roosevelt's, of which I saw some but not all of.  If we take the second marriage of Theodore Roosevelt as an example, we'd find that his bride Edith Carew was of equal social standing, but not wealth, as her family's wealth was in an unarrestable decline at the time of their marriage.

Of course, social standing equates to social circles, which is a big factor.  People tend to meet each other in social circles based upon their economic standing. So, a family like the Roosevelt's met other people like themselves in areas that they frequented or lived in. That's not conspiratorial in nature, it is nature.  Irish working class families in the US met other Catholics of working class background in what some have called the Catholic Ghettos that existed up until the mid 20th  Century.  In the West, where people lived much more fluid lives, they tended to meet a wider circle of people in different areas, but still this came into play.  My parents met at church, as noted.  A lot ranch couples I know met at ranch working functions, often as children.  My wife and I met at The Sheepherders Fair.

On social standing and the well to do, an interesting phenomenon is present in second marriages when the widower is at least in this 50s.  The same concerns that existed in the first marriage seem to have been routinely dispensed with in the second.  Here you can find quite a few examples of well to do widowers, who had married distinguished women of their same social standing in their first marriage, marrying somebody of much lower social standing, often an employee, in their second marriage. Another friend of mine knows that one of his ancestors who was well to do married a younger maid that he employed some time after his first wife's death, even though he was very well educated and multilingual, and she had next to no education.   This is an interesting phenomenon that probably has a variety of explanations.  For one, and probably the most important, such widowers probably valued the married state more than anything else at that point in their lives, and other concerns had dropped off.  Often, however these sort of marriages end up being a real bone of contention for the children of the first marriage, and sometimes the children of the second, if there are any.

Sort of the antithesis to second marriages in this context, the failure of a woman to marry at all was a undoubted stigma at one time.  I'm not so sure that it still isn't to some degree.  This gave rise to the term "old maid", which referred to a "maid", i.e., unmarried woman, who had grown old.  A person could reach old maid status fairly rapidly, or perhaps become a "spinster" if her family condition was more gentile.   It generally wasn't a condition to be envied, although some women chose it voluntarily.  At least one "maiden aunt" of my mother's definitely did.  At any rate, these terms have long passed, and while there may still be some stigma attached, it's not anything like what it once was.

The same is somewhat, but less, true of men.  It was unusual for men in most occupations not to marry, although there were some occupations that featured a lot of bachelors. The armed forces, for example, had a great number of bachelors in it, in no small part because it was simply impossible for an enlisted man to to afford to be married unless they obtained high NCO rank, by which time they were typically older and likely highly habituated.  Indeed, at certain times, and with some of those being quite recent, married men were not allowed to enlist in the Army, although generally they could be conscripted during periods of conscription, in the U.S. Army.  All of this explains why certain vices were heavily associated with concentrations of soldiers in certain eras.

 Early 20th Century cowboy. At this point in time, a demographic change was just occurring in which this occupation was going from almost universally young unmarried men, to older men who might be married.  Since then, it's flipped one more time, and the process has repeated itself.

A surprising category of the largely unmarried, to some degree, has been agricultural workers in the US, from time to time.  19th Century cowboys may form the best example as they were almost never married.  Indeed, cowboys not only were "boys", but as a rule they didn't occupy that profession for long, with a desire to marry often being a reason they left it.  Ranchers, which are truly a different class from cowboys, tended to be married, although you will find surprising examples to the contrary.  Going into the 20th Century things changed in regards to cowboys, and up until prior to World War Two, when the open range days had faded, married cowboys became fairly common. The war changed this, however, as exposure to other more lucrative jobs generally caused the married men to drop out and its only until quite recently when this has again begun to change, and married cowboys have become more common again.  As for ranchers, as noted, they have always tended to be married men, but there are a fair number of examples of them marrying at an older age than we'd expect, or not at all. Circumstances and conditions just didn't allow for it. This must also be true of other types of agriculturalist, such as farmers, and Garrison Keillor made an entire genera of literary figure out of the Norwegian Bachelor Farmer, which I'm told is a fairly accurate characterization.

Of course, certain occupations, although they are few in number, are not opened to the married. One example, although its a temporary status, was just given. Another permanent such one, however, would be that of Priest in the Latin right of the Catholic church.  This hasn't always been the case, and even today that is a rule of the church and not a dogma of it, but it has been a rule for a very long time, although there are certain exceptions to it.  Contrary to what some might expect, the same rule doesn't apply to Catholic priests from the Easter Rites of the church, although I think that the rule there may be that they have to have been married prior to entering into the seminary and can't marry after that. The same rule, I think, applies in the Orthodox churches.  I also think, but I'm not sure, that in both the Eastern Rite Catholic churches and the Orthodox churches married men are not qualified to be bishops.

Christian monks, if truly monks, are also subject to the rule against marriage no matter what branch of Christianity they may be in.  This is sometimes confused, however, by the existence in the Orthodox world of "monks" that aren't really monks, such as the legendary example of Rasputin. Rasputin was regarded as an ascetic, but he wasn't a monk.  He was married, fwiw.***

As with monks, the Christian world gives us also the example of Nuns, who likewise never marry.  Nuns exist not only in the Catholic and Orthodox denominations, but also in certain Protestant denominations, where their status in regards to marriage is the same no matter what.

At this point in this thread, I think I've run down about all the various "frayed threads" I intended to, so I'll rather awkwardly close it here.  Having asked a few questions, I hope we see a few replies, as it would be interesting to see how many people can relate to one or more of the various odds and ends I've placed in here.


*Latin for "And Spouse".  The term frequently appears on older deeds.

**At one time it was the dominant anthropological view that romantic love was an invention of Europeans from the Renaissance and Enlightenment Era, and that it actually wasn't experienced by people who hadn't learned it culturally.  This view is pretty good proof that a lot of popular academic ideas, at any one time, are truly stupid.  Ultimately researchers determined that it is in fact an universal human emotion.  Apparently the dimwitted people who came up withe opposite conclusion were only able to recognize it in their own cultures, which itself is pretty darned dense. 

***His daughter spent a fair amount of time in later years trying to rehabilitate his reputation in the west, where she fled as a refugee.  Needless to say, she wasn't really successful at that.

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