18th Century Marriage

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Wedding scene from Ramsay’s The gentle shepherd, Act V, Printed for G. Reid and Co., 1798
From The Lewis Walpole Library at Yale University

By Tara Owens, Educational Programs Coordinator

According to U.S. Census data for 2009, the average age of first marriage for men is 28.4 and 26.5 for women. I was married in 2009, when I was 22 and my husband was 24. As a married 22-year old woman, I felt out of place since most people my age were still single. My husband and I were both four years ahead of the 21st-century average. But, if we were living in 18th-century America, we would have been typical.

In 18th-century America, the typical age of marriage for middle-to-upper class white women was 22 and 26 for men. Women began courting as early as 15 or 16, but most delayed marriage until their early twenties. The years of courtship were a time when 18th-century women could enjoy some freedom and power. They had the right to refuse any suitors and were not bogged down with running a household. Thus, it is easy to see why women began courting at such a young age but did not usually marry until several years later.

The actual wedding day for white 18th-century Americans looked quite similar to the weddings we attend today, although it should be noted that most weddings did not take place in a church as it could be difficult to travel to one, especially for those living in rural areas. The custom of the father giving away his daughter, the exchanging of rings, and having a reception were all practiced in 18th-century America. Typically, the reception was held at the bride’s house where toasts were made and games and dancing entertained the guests. So, some of the wedding rituals and traditions we partake in today were already  in existence in the years prior to 1800.

Posted on Aug 24, 2012 in , , by Hammond-Harwood House



Hammond-Harwood House

The mission of the Hammond-Harwood House Association is to preserve and to interpret the architecturally significant Hammond-Harwood House Museum and its collection of fine and decorative arts, and to explore the diverse social history associated with its occupants, both free and enslaved, for the purposes of education and appreciation.
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