Courtship and Marriage During World War One

Edwardian wedding

Courtship and Marriage During World War One

If you were to time travel and attend a wedding in 1914, you would be quite familiar with the ceremony and customs. Weddings have not changed in the past century. However, marriage and how the couple got to the altar has.

Dating, as we know it, came into existence in the 1920s, a direct result of World War I and its effect on society. Before this couples courted.

Courtship

A courting Edwardian couple
A courting Edwardian couple

Women were old enough to enter into a courtship by the time they were 17 or 18 years old. This was the age they began attending adult social functions and making social calls with their mothers.

Courtships began with the couple first having a conversation proceeded by a proper introduction.

Courtship, like most things during the Victorian and Edwardian eras, 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.
  • Women could not leave the house to meet men without having chaperones and first asking their mothers’ 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 it was limited.
  • 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 engagement, the couple was introduced to each other’s families.
  • An honorable man never broke an engagement.

Marriage

A wartime bride and groom
A wartime bride and groom

A typical engagement lasted anywhere from six months to two years.

Many marriages were not the result of love. Instead they were a sort of business deal that protected both parties from scandal or ensured their financial futures.

Upon marriage, a woman became her husband’s property and sacrificed her autonomy.  Her finances and property became her husband’s, and she lost many legal rights.

World War I necessitated the speeding up of many courtships. Soldiers married their sweethearts while on leave or before departing for the front.

Other soldiers met and married women from foreign countries. At the end of the war, for example, Canada transported home approximately 300,000 soldiers and members of the medical corps along with 54,000 wives and children.

Surplus of Women

WW1 soldiers' graves
WW1 soldiers’ graves

Unfortunately, not every story had a happy ending.

In Great Britain, the war left a surplus of two million more women than men. This cruel realty forced a large percentage of women to abandoned their hopes and dreams of love, marriage and children.

Only one in 10 would marry.

The rest lived lives 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 it would lead to marriage.

“Nearly all the men who might have married you have been killed,” one headmistress told her students. “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 no doubt was a frightening thought.

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Updated:  20 October 2020
Melina Druga
Most kids have an active imagination. My imagination has stayed strong into adulthood, and I’ve funneled that creativity into a successful writing career. I write history, both fiction and nonfiction, because although your school history classes may have been boring, the past is not. My goal is to bring the past to life in all its myriad of colors.
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