If you were to go back in time and attend a 1914 wedding, you would be quite familiar with the ceremony and customs. Not much has changed in the past century. However, how the couple got to the altar has changed.
Dating, as we know it, came into existence in the 1920s, a direct result of World War One and its effect on society. Before this couples courted.
Women were old enough to enter into a courtship by the time they were 17 or 18 years old. This was the time they began socializing at adult social functions and making social calls with their mothers.
Courtships began first with the couple having conversation after a proper introduction.
Like most things during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, courtship came with many rules.
These rules included:
- A woman could not introduce herself to a man nor could she speak to a man without proper introduction.
- If two people were of different social classes, the person from the higher social class could choose to ignore the other. Marriage outside of social class was discouraged.
- A man could not court a woman without first asking her family’s permission.
- A woman would not leave the house to meet a man without having a chaperone and first asking her mother’s permission.
- A chaperone also needed to be present whenever a man visited a woman’s home.
- The courting couple was not allowed to touch until after engagement and even then, they could only hold hands.
- A man asked a woman’s father for permission for her hand in marriage.
- The couple was allowed some alone time while engaged, but only for things like going for a walk. They were also permitted to hold hands and might even sneak a kiss from time to time.
- After their engagement, the couple was introduced to each other’s families. But usually there was a waiting period unless the engagement was called off.
- An honorable man never broke an engagement.
Many marriages were not the result of love, but instead as a sort of business dealing that protected both parties from scandal and ensured their financial future. A typical engagement last anywhere from six months to two years.
War often necessitated the speeding up of courtships. Soldiers married their sweethearts while they were on leave or before they left for the front.
Others met and married women from foreign countries. At the end of the war, for example, Canada returned home around 300,000 soldiers and members of the medical corps along with 54,000 wives and children.
Unfortunately, not every story had a happy ending. In Great Britain, the war left a surplus of two million more women than men. Only one in 10 would marry. The rest lived a life of solitude and loneliness or became lesbians. The competition for the remaining bachelors was stiff; a number of women entered into sexual relationships in the hopes they would lead to marriage.
These women abandoned their hope of love, marriage and children for a cruel realty.
As one headmistress told the students in her charge, “Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed. You will have to make your way in the world as best you can.”
For women who were trained from childhood to be wives and mothers, this was a frightening thought.
Did any of your ancestors have a wartime wedding? Leave a comment below.
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