This history of marriage in America in the 1800s and early 1900s provides insight into the views and roles of husbands and wives during this time period. We also discuss age at marriage statistics, sex and sexuality in marriage, and societal expectations of husbands and wives in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Statistics: Age at First Marriage
Many people who think about the 19th and early 20th centuries mistakenly believe that American men and women were most commonly married in their teens. But this is not so. According to the U.S. Decennial Census American Community Survey (2010), the median age at first marriage for American women in 1890 was about 23.5. Age at first marriage for men was about 26.5.
Economics played a factor in preparing for marriage and it often included getting an education and . Middle-class men usually married after going to college and working a few years, and middle-class women often left college when they got married.
Common Views of Marriage
This true story from the late 1890s provides a great example of a young woman’s view of her life as she heads toward marriage.
Young men and women looked forward to being married for a number of reasons:
- First, it was the ultimate symbol of adulthood. In the 1800s and early 1900s people looked forward to being grown up. They received the respect of society as an adult, contributed to society, and made their own marriage leave application decisions. Unlike now, where it is fashionable for adults well into their 40s to delay adulthood.
- Women knew they would be financially provided for for the rest of their lives in their roles as housewives, protected from the outside world, and be viewed as having filled society’s ultimate role for woman: as a loving companion to man and one who truly made a house into a warm, welcoming home.
- The couple enjoyed being showered with presents. In the 1800s it became customary to expect that wealthier guests would bring an such as dinnerware, silver, lace material, or crystal. The new couple would be able to begin decorating their home and the gifts served as ties of remembrance to friends who cared enough to give a lovely gift to the wedded couple.
- Men looked forward to marriage because it provided for them a companion who would give them a happy respite from the harsh realities of the working world, and also provided for them a permanent sexual companion. Since sex before marriage was fiercely looked down upon, marriage represented to men acceptable and healthy sexual release.