In what sense was marriage in 19th century Europe “expensive”?

In what sense was marriage in 19th century Europe “expensive”?

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

I am reading Ibsen's play "Ghosts" (for fun), written in 1881, and in one of the scenes a conversation takes place between young Oswald, who had been living in Paris and Rome, and a conservative Pastor about the subject of marriage.

Oswald tells the shocked Pastor that he has seen family life up close by acquaintances who live with "their children and their children's mother", out of wedlock. The pastor is scandalized, and Oswald explains that the reason is partly because "Marriage is so expensive".

The implication is that providing for a family was practical, but actual marriage wasn't, where does the difference lie? Was there some legal hurdle for marriage by poor people? A proof of means of support required? Some kind of exorbitant marriage license fee?

Weddings were expensive in the 19th century (not just in Europe) because of the wedding party.

In the 20th century, "society" dispensed with a lot of wedding formalities, allowing cheap "civil" weddings, those undertaken before a justice of the peace, or similar civil authorities. Even in a "traditional" wedding, there might only be a "wedding reception with "light refreshments."

Not so, in the 19th century. Then, a "wedding party" would consist of a feast, and dancing, with both sides' (extended) families and friends in attendance. The cost of such an event could easily be a larger fraction (half or more) of a year's income.

Disclaimer: IANAH. Not even an amateur one.

Several customs made Marriage expensive, as in some sense it still is. They very at least across period, country/region, and social class.

As mentioned in the comments, Dowry, Dower and Bride-Price were all customs by which one party to the marriage must provide some sort of financial compensation in order for the marriage to take place. A Dowry involved payment to the husband by the bride's parents, in certain traditions directly to the groom, and in others to the bride as a means to establish her new home to similar standards in which she was raised. A bride-price was payed by the groom to the bride's parents, and A Dower was property turned over to the bride by the husband.

These customs were instruments that facilitated the arrangement of marriage in various ways. They could ensure a wife's position in case the marriage resulted in separation or divorce. They could guarantee a certain quality of life for the wife, at least at the beginning of the marriage, and the transferred wealth could then be passed on to descendents. A large dowry could be used to lure a husband of higher social class or prospects, or to marry off a daughter who did not attract suitors on her own merits. On the other hand, a daughter who was highly attractive (in appearance or personal qualities) might solicit a proposal of marriage even without any dowry to offer, a major plot device in "Pride and Prejudice", for example. a Dowry could also be used a device for negotiating alliances, when a union between households had geopolitical significance, negotiations over the dowry could in effect express the terms of the alliance. We see traces of this in the opening Scene of "King Lear", for example.

A bride-price was paid by the husband to the parents of the bride, suggesting that it was in the husband's interest to seek the marriage.

Besides these customs, the customs relating to the wedding itself are also varied and could be expensive then, as indeed it can be today. However, an expensive celebration was often an expression of wealth particular to social class. As early as the late 18th century in Wales, so-called "Cardigan Weddings" in which the guests were invited "to bring the feast with them", as it were, were common, and therefore the cost of the wedding feast was in some locations was not prohibitive.

Civil marriages were possible in France since the end of the 18th century, and in engaged by the middle of th 19th century. The reduced cost of marriage by an official meant that it was much less of a hurdle if it had ever been.

In England, a long-standing custom called "the banns", required that an upcoming marriage first be announced to the congregation in church, and time given for members of the community to raise objections, if one of the parties being married, or if they were related in some way. It seem plausible to me that this custom was the origin of the familiar "speak now or forever hold your peace" part of the Christian marriage ceremony, but I haven't investigated.

The delay involved during the waiting period associated with "the banns" was an inconvenience to some. Understandable if one remembers that people often married young, and that chastity before marriage meant that any delay of the wedding also meant a delay of the young couple's sexual relationship. That goes some way to explaining why young couples, and perhaps the groom in particular, sometimes felt an "urgent" need to have the wedding as soon as possible. To facilitate this, the possibility of marrying using a "wedding bond" instead of waiting for the "banns" was instituted. The couple were allowed to marry without delay, but the husband was required to post a bond on the guarantee that there exists no lawful reason for marriage not to take place. The bond had a term of a year or so, and if the marriage turned out to have been unlawful, the value of the bond was forfeited.

As the more specific issue of the exchange in Ibsen's play, I think the explanation is that for various reasons, possibly bride-price as mentioned later in the play, engaging in a "proper", respectable marriage according to upper middle-class norms was indeed expensive but, no less importantly, it was also "rigid". Oswalds' stay in Paris among his artist-friends clearly suggests they are living a bohemian lifestyle and so although they may not be able to afford all the accoutrement of a bourgeois marriage, they are also probably not particularly interested in settling into such a "respectable" family life. Instead, they engage in illicit affairs, which result in children and then simply go on to set up home with the women they are involved with. It's not implied that these women were the same "daughters from good homes" which they could afford neither to marry nor ,presumably, to provide for in the style to which they were accustomed and their parents demanded.


Why did some people need to pay a bond in the 1700s in order to get married?

I've unforgivably lost the original source which provided a reference regarding "Cardigan Wedding" but the reference itself can be found on google books, it appeared in installments in "Gentelman's magazine" Vols. 61,62,63 (1791-2), and titled "Morrisian Miscellany, Cardigan Weddings"

Marriage in America: A Brief History

Elizabeth: Marriage – the word alone is loaded. Marriage is the butt of jokes, the “old ball and chain,” the end of fun. Marriage can also bring up images of fear, of abuse, of control. And marriage can invoke images of happy couples, of new beginnings, and of really really expensive parties and mediocre buffet lines.

Today we’re going to do a quick exploration into the history of marriage in America. From the founding of our nation until the present day.

I’m Elizabeth Garner Masarik

And we are your historians for this episode of Dig.

Marissa: A few weeks ago we discussed the social and legal underpinnings of something called coverture. If you listened to that episode you’ll find this one as a nice addition. And if you didn’t hear it, although it’s not necessary to understanding this episode, you will find it a nice complement to some of the ideas that we discuss here.

Elizabeth: But today we are going to focus on marriage in America specifically and how the concept of marriage as a cultural, social and legal event and state of being, has changed over time. Now of course America began as a colony of England and therefore early American understandings of marriage were based on the British model. In general, European political theorizing had long-held that monogamy benefited the social order. It harnessed sexual desires, it supplied a support system for the care of children and the dependent, and it provided a means for wealth management.

Marissa: Of course, monogamy wasn’t the only way these aspects of life could be taken care of. There were plenty of other models all over the world that served to order society through other marriage and partnering practices such as polygamous and matrilineal modes of marriage and partnering. But European ideology rested on a Christian understanding of family and social order, and thus monogamy.

Elizabeth: But there was a lot going on in Early America. Nation states and individual colonies were vying for control of land, resources, and a solid piece of the global merchant trade. There was massive competition between colonial interests in the New World. To cope, new settlements needed to have control over populations- both colonial settlers and native peoples- in order to maximize the resources invested in colonial endeavors.

Marissa: One means of controlling populations is through controlling gender and how gender functions in a society. Aristotelian understandings of gender rested on the assumption that females were the embodiment of lesser formed males. These scientific understandings of male and female colored first encounters between European colonists and native peoples. Gender difference was fully ensconced in the European world-view.

The cover of Kathleen Brown’s Goodwives, Nasty Wenches, and Anxious Patriarchs

Elizabeth: Even moving to the New World was a gendered experience. Historian Kathleen Brown does an excellent job of showing how the English viewed the American continent. British travel accounts and propaganda pictured North America as an untouched Eden. Even the name of the new British holding, Virginia, expressed the female nature of the land. Named for the “The Virgin Queen,” Queen Elizabeth I, who adopted the moniker to retain control of her holdings, the name Virginia suggested an untouched “virgin” land waiting for masculine conquest.

Marissa: Even with the first British colonies, we see gender playing a fundamental role. The very earliest colonies, first Roanoke and later Jamestown, were both heavily skewed male, which tells us two things. First, that these initial colonies were not designed to be fully functioning societies but were instead designed to be money-making enterprises. Second, money-making enterprises relied on a gendered division of labor. Women weren’t taken to the British North American colonies in equal numbers because women’s labor was not understood as integral to a money-making enterprise. So already we see New World colonists coming over with preconceived notions of male and female and what powers and responsibilities those genders embodied.

Elizabeth: the gender balance in the British colonies was skewed male and this lasted into the 18th century. After “gold” was found with the cash crop tobacco, mass amounts of labor was needed. As more male colonists came to America the need for white women to come and be a way to calm the rowdy masses became apparent. Because the British did not intermarry with native women like say the Spanish and the French did. So Britain had to import more European women than other colonizers did. And European women did go to the British colonies, although never in the same amounts as men did. But labor needs were so desperate that most indentured women were quickly put to work in the fields.

Marissa: This immediately caused a disturbance in the social and cultural understandings of gender. Divisions of labor in the early modern English colonies prescribed that a “good wife,” was a wife that was both a help-mate and a woman who worked strictly inside the domestic sphere – inside the home, NOT in the fields. Labor shortages that forced European wives and female indentured servants into the tobacco fields both upset the cultural assumptions of proper womanhood and upset assumptions of white masculinity.

Elizabeth: Right, in order for a man to be a proper patriarch, he needed to be able to afford to have his female kin solely work inside the domestic sphere. Women working “outside” were perceived as “nasty wenches,” and more vulnerable to sexual exploitation and rape because they weren’t protected by a strong male patriarch inside the home. So it became a matter of class status to have the ability to control sexual access over one’s female family members by being able to afford to have them work only within the domestic realm. So basically he was failing as a man if his wife or daughters had to work in the fields, because it showed that he couldn’t afford to hire someone else, i.e. these “nasty wenches” to do that kind of work.

Elizabeth: Right, so guess who ended up doing that work? Three guesses [sarcasm]. African, Native American, and European women all worked in tobacco fields during the early colonial period in the Chesapeake and were all viewed as “nasty wenches.” BUT, as more African slaves were brought to the Chesapeake, understandings of race and class began to intersect. And ideas about “proper” women took shape around ideas about race. So as African slaves were imported into the British colonies, more white women were able to move inside the home. Over time, Black women came to be known solely as “nasty wenches” where white women became overwhelmingly “good wives” because of the work they were doing and the level of sexual protection they received from a patriarch. So it turned into Black bodies were unprotected and thus “available” to be raped because they were not “good wives.” And one way we can track how these cultural assumptions of race and class were changing is by the laws that were passed in colonial Virginia.

An advertisement for Virginia tobacco | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Marissa: So for example, in 1642 African women were taxed the same as all male laborers, white women were not. In 1662 slavery was defined through matrilineal lines, meaning that the status of slave followed the status of the mother, not of the father. This allowed white men to rape African women without repercussion and heightened the need to restrict white women’s sexuality. So mixed race children born to Black women became slaves and because colonists did not want mixed race children born to white women to be free, there was even more impetus to restrict access to sex with white women.

Elizabeth: After Bacon’s Rebellion in 1676, the colonial government restricted African and Native American access to the law- they weren’t allowed to testify in court, have sex with white women, or carry firearms. Kathleen Brown argues 1676 was the turning point when the Chesapeake colonies moved from a division of class to one of race. By the 1730s the term “nasty wench” was reserved for African woman only. The term not only designated their skin color but also the limited power they or African men had in protecting them from sexual exploitation, ie rape from white men. In creating these racial and gender hierarchies in the American colonies, we can see why marriage and monogamy would be so integral to the hierarchy and the support of white patriarchy that defined the early American social fabric.

Marissa: By the late 18th century, Americans understood heterosexual marriage as a mutual consent between a man and a woman to enter into a marriage contract. Legally then, they became one under the law and rested on the Christian doctrine that “the twain shall be one flesh.” Heterosexual desire was expected to be satisfied within the union and each partner would have exclusive access to the others’ body, thus demanding sexual fidelity or monogamy. Now we know for a fact that marriage did not ensure monogamy. Particularly because of the proliferation of prostitution throughout the American experience and because of the number of documented cases of women being punished for adultery. Essentially monogamy meant that women could not have sex with anyone else. It harkens back to our earlier discussion of restricting access to white women sexually.

Elizabeth: Also following Christian doctrine, the Bible made the husband the “head” of his wife. So the common law turned the “twain” or the two into one person and that person was male under the law. And this is coverture, which Marissa discussed in-depth in its early modern European context a few weeks ago. Basically a woman gave up her identity, symbolized by relinquishing her last name and taking her husbands. In its strictest sense, coverture meant that a wife could not enter into contracts, sign legal documents without her husband’s name also, control her own property, or be held responsible for herself under the law. The husband became the political representative for his wife – so he has full citizenship, she does not.

Marissa: During the Revolutionary-era, the marital union was used as a metaphor for political union and Revolution itself. Discussions about “marital choice” and “unions” pervaded popular newspapers, magazines and pamphlets. These tracts defined marriage as a companionship and a balance between two partners. Marriage was presented as a balanced union and partnership, not a hierarchy as common law prescribed. This was often used as a metaphor for the reasons why America wanted to break from England. The rationale behind it was that America wasn’t in an equal “marriage” with Britain, but one of hierarchical authority, with America as the historically “women,” or lesser role. Thus the reason to kind of bolster the idea of “union” or “equality” when talking about this metaphorical marriage. It should come as no surprise that soon after the Revolution, this equal partnership idea shifted to older understandings of marriage and pseudo-coverture.

Elizabeth: Ideas surrounding marriage rested on an understanding of consent. So just as citizens agreed to grant authority to their elected representatives, a woman would consent to grant civic and legal authority to her husband. Here’s an example from a popular essay from 1793. It urged wives to “cheerfully submit to the government of their own chusing [sic],” meaning a man. It went on to say “women by entering upon the marriage state, renounce some of their natural rights (as men do, when they enter into civic society) …” A wife gained “a right to be protected by the man of her own choice,” just as “men, living under a free constitution of their own framing, are entitled to the protection of the laws.” So we see here how eighteenth century understanding of marriage still adhered to an idea of coverture and patriarchy.

Marissa: Moving into the nineteenth century, states had the power to say who could marry and to whom. This meant that southern states with slavery forbade enslaved people from legally marrying one another. Because if a Black man was owned by a white man, and that Black man were to legally marry a woman, it would cause social upheaval because then who owns the body and the labor of the woman the Black man married? Would it be the white master of the Black man, or the Black man over his wife? So you can see why marriage would be forbidden. Some states ruled that Native Americans and whites could not marry one another, or Black and white people. States also determined laws regarding divorce and rights for widows and widowers. And even though different states had different rules, the constitutional doctrine of comity mandated that states had to honor another’s laws on marriage.

Elizabeth: Slave marriages had neither legal standing nor protection from the abuses and restrictions imposed on them by slave owners. Slave husbands and wives, without legal recourse, could be separated or sold at their master’s will. Couples who resided on different plantations were allowed to visit only with the consent of their owners. Slaves often married without the benefit of clergy or official sanction. Thus the “jumping over the broom,” which is a ritual of laying a broom on the ground to symbolize hearth and home, and then jumping over it. This is a practice that has been traced to Celtic traditions but in the American setting is thoroughly ensconced within African-American marriage rituals.

Marissa: After the Civil War newly freed enslaved people flocked to the Freedman’s Bureau and other official agencies, in order to obtain legal marriages. A legal marriage certificate was more than just a document “legally” securing a marriage. It was a symbol of freedom. The right to get married brought honor and legitimacy to a marriage But the freedom to marry was not automatically extended to formerly enslaved people. For example, Texas did not allow freedmen and women to marry until 1869.

Elizabeth: Divorce in the nineteenth century was very different from today. Instead of essentially “dissolving” the union, in the nineteenth century the plaintiff actually had to prove or show that the defendant had in some way broken the marriage contract. So for example, a wife that was abused and or physically hurt by her husband had to prove her ideal female behavior in order to have a standing in the case. She had to show how obedient, attentive, attractive, pious, sexually faithful and how long-suffering she was in order to get a divorce. This could be extremely embarrassing and demeaning for a woman to go through. Men just basically had to prove that they financially supported their wife and children whereas a wife must prove her femininity (to a male judge).

Marissa: Additionally, women might not want a divorce, even if they were being abused, because they would most likely lose custody of their children. Even if their husband was found to have violated the marriage contract and a wife was granted a divorce, it didn’t mean that he lost control of his children. During the colonial era, widows could lose their children to a guardian selected by the father before his death. Courts determined who would get custody of illegitimate children and did not generally give mothers custody until the 1800s. Before then, and even well into the nineteenth century, fathers had an absolute right to custody of their children as well as the earnings of their wife’s and children’s labor.

Elizabeth: Fathers also had the right to seek legal action if their daughters were “seduced” which could mean a variety of things from the daughter falling in love with someone and running away to her actual rape. “Seduced” was a very loaded word. Courts sometimes awarded mothers custody of their children if the fathers did not provide for them monetarily. But that was sometimes hard to prove. Under coverture, children were considered assets in which their fathers had property rights. Wives, limited by coverture, therefore had no economic or familial rights to the custody of their children. This slowly changed in the nineteenth century as women’s rights gained momentum. Married women started gaining property rights and started gaining custody rights. It wasn’t until the turn of the twentieth century however that courts stopped viewing children as property.

A black couple on their wedding day | Public Domain / Wikimedia Commons

Marissa: Between the years 1820 – 1860 most states loosened their obstacle to getting a divorce. States added statutes such as extreme drunkenness, gross neglect of duty, and extreme cruelty, among others, to their reasons for granting divorce. But not all states were equal in their divorce laws. Indiana became known as a “divorce mill” in the 1850s because they had such liberal divorce laws. And New York had some of the strictest, where divorce could only be granted in cases of adultery- and that most often meant a wife cheating on her husband. Because you know, patriarchy.

Elizabeth: Even after states started granting women property rights and later a right to their own wages, courts still ruled conservatively when it came to these ideas. Husbands were expected to support wives and in exchange wives were expected to give over her property and her labor. Judges continued to interpret wives’ housework, ie labor, as work owned by their husbands. What was also considered to be owned was a woman’s sexuality.

Marissa: General understandings (by men at least) of the contract of marriage included the husband’s “right to sex”—the wife having given consent for all time by entering the marriage contract in the first place. Essentially, wives were the property of their husbands with which they could do what they pleased sex-wise. The 1857 Massachusetts case Commonwealth v Fogerty was the first in the U.S. to recognize the “contract” justification for the marital defense to rape, ie a woman entered into the marriage contract freely and with full knowledge they were giving up the right to refuse sex. This defense became part of the rape laws in every state. The “right” of a husband to sex with his wife also provided a husband with grounds for divorce if his wife refused sex.

Elizabeth: This understanding of contract lasted throughout the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century. The Model Penal Code was a set of legal provisions that was drafted in 1955 and presented to the American Law institute. It included provisions on rape. The code stated that: “Marriage . . . while not amounting to a legal waiver of the woman’s right to say ‘no,’ does imply a kind of generalized consent that distinguishes some versions of the crime of rape from parallel behavior by a husband. . . . Retaining the spousal exclusion (ie this rape exemption within marriage) avoids this unwarranted intrusion of the penal law into the life of the family.” States adopted the Model Penal Code’s endorsement of the marital rape exemption in varying capacities. The code was updated in the 1980s but still upheld the spousal exemption.

Marissa: However, the women’s movement of the 1960s and 70’s spearheaded changes to laws concerning marital rape. In 1976, Nebraska became the first state to throw out its marital rape exemption law. In 1978 national publicity brought the issue of spousal rape to the attention of the public when an Oregon court acquitted a husband charged with raping his wife
Oregon became the third state to criminalize marital rape. In 1984, the New York State Court of Appeals finally decided that there was no basis for distinguishing between marital rape and non-marital rape. The court noted that “a marriage license should not be viewed as a license to forcibly rape [the defendant’s] wife with impunity” and struck the marital exemption from the statue in question for violation of the state and federal Constitution. North Carolina’s penal code for rape said that a person could not be convicted of the crime of rape “if the victim is the person’s legal spouse at the time of the commission of the alleged rape,” until 1993 .

Elizabeth: So it wasn’t until 1993 that all 50 states had finally eliminated the “marital rape exception.” But don’t get too excited yet. Only about half of the states have totally abolished the distinction between marital and non-marital rape. Twenty of the states that have kept the distinction exonerate a husband who has sex with his wife while she is unconscious or otherwise incapable of giving consent. Many states, like California, for example, still define spousal rape as a separate offense than, say, rape by a stranger. Other states that treat marital rape differently from non-marital rape require that marital rape victims report the crime within a shorter period of time than is required in non-marital rape cases. In fact, some states require that the prosecution make a greater showing that force or violence was used during marital rape than is required in a non-marital rape case.

Marissa: Let’s switch gears and look at marriage through the lens of immigration. In March of 1907 Congress passed the Expatriation Act. It ruled that U.S. women who married non-citizens would lose their citizenship. They would no longer be Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship. The same rule did not apply to men. An American man who married a non-citizen woman kept his citizenship status and his wife and any children they had became citizens as well. This is 1907, by this point women can vote in four states, yet coverture still plays a role in how women are incorporated under a husband’s citizenship.

Elizabeth: This law was tested in 1911 when Ethel Mackenzie was barred from registering to vote in California because she was married to an English man. She took the issue to court, arguing that it was unconstitutional to deny her rights of citizenship because of her marriage. The case traveled all the way up to the Supreme Court where Justice McKenna gave the opinion that a couple’s “intimate relation and unity of interests” made it “of public concern in many instances to merge their identity and give dominance to the husband.” He went on to say that marriage was a voluntary act. She had entered into the marriage contract willingly and since the California law warned her of the consequences of doing such a thing, her voluntary willingness to marry basically amounted to “expatriation.” Or giving up one’s citizenship. So that’s a long legaleze way of saying, nope, you’re not a person anymore. Your husband is larger than you are and encompasses your citizenship rights. Citizenship here people, something you are supposedly granted at birth! But apparently not for women.

Marissa: And once America entered World War I in 1917, this law affected thousands of American women. Because, if they had married German immigrants who hadn’t been naturalized before the war, they had already lost their citizenship and when war started they ended up having to register as enemy aliens! It wasn’t until 1922 with the Cable Act, also known as the Married Women’s Independent Nationality Act, where a woman’s citizenship was separated from marriage. American native women married to foreigners gained their American citizenship back.

Elizabeth: But just because the Cable Act was passed didn’t mean that these women automatically gained their citizenship back. They had to petition the government to regain their citizenship. Also if a husband wasn’t eligible for citizenship, her request for citizenship could still be denied. And, if the woman had lived on foreign soil for two years, she could still lose her citizenship. It wasn’t until the 1940s when women did not have to worry about losing their citizenship based on the men they married. So yet again, even though coverture wasn’t common law anymore, women were still not considered citizens enough to actually keep their citizenship once they were married until the 1940s.

Marissa: There are a million other ways we could point out how marriage propped up white patriarchy. We could do it though the tax code, through credit and banking agencies, through laws against “miscegenation,” and a gazillion other ways. Instead we are going to turn to same-sex marriage and how society and the law changed over time. The landmark case Obergefell v. Hodges was decided in 2015 in the US Supreme Court. It granted same-sex couples the right to marry. Or really, more precisely, it overruled the 13 states that had passed laws against same-sex marriage that they were in fact violating same-sex couples rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. So go listen to our episode on the Fourteenth Amendment for more on how that amendment in used in cases like this.

The Wedding Couple, after Abbot Handerson Thayer and Richard E. Miller, Mike Licht | Flickr CC-BY

Elizabeth: But the legalization of same-sex marriage followed an extremely long and arduous path. Really since the founding of the nation but legally since the 1970s. In 1970 a same-sex couple in Minnesota applied for a marriage license and were denied. They sued and their case made it to the state supreme court, where they lost the case. Maryland became the first state to officially ban same-sex marriage in 1973. Many states made their same-sex marriage bans in the 1990s and early 2000s. Yet, while those laws were being enacted, views about same-sex partnerships were changing in the public mind. For example, Levi Strauss & Co. were one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits to their employees in 1992. The 90s was also the decade of tv shows like Friends, and Ellen (the first one- a sitcom, not a talk show) where same-sex characters had major roles. Contemporaneously however, in 1996 Justice Scalia grouped murder, polygamy and homosexuality together as the type of disgraceful acts in which laws could constitutionally prohibit. DOMA, or the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” was passed in the same year, which prevented the federal government from recognizing any marriages between gay or lesbian couples for the purpose of federal laws or programs, even if those couples are considered legally married by their home state. Section three of the law was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2013.

Marissa: 2003 was a huge year in same-sex legal fights. The House of Representatives proposed an amendment to the Constitution of the United States that would define marriage as only between a man and a woman. The U.S. Supreme Court decided Lawrence v. Texas , which struck down sodomy law and issued a broad constitutional right to sexual privacy. California passed a domestic partnership law that provided same-sex partners with almost all the rights and responsibilities as spouses in civil marriages. That same year President Bush said that he wanted marriage reserved for heterosexuals only. And finally, Massachusetts became the first state to legalize gay marriage.

Elizabeth: So with all the ways that we have outlined how marriage props up white patriarchy, it begs the question, why would same-sex couples want the right to legally marry? And the answer to that is complicated, just as complicated as the reasons that women still enter into heterosexual marriages. Throughout the fight for same-sex marriage, ideas among the LGBTQ community were always mixed in regards to wanting the legal right to marry. Many did view it as a heterosexual, patriarchal, white supremacist institution and wanted absolutely no part in it. Alternatively, same-sex couples sought legal marriage because the official denial of such a union stigmatized their relationship and undermined their constitutional rights. They were also missing out on the huge financial benefits built into the American tax code for married people. Also issues of child custody, spousal benefits, and caretaking came into play. Additionally, same-sex couples sought legal marriage for many of the same reasons that former enslaved people sought marriage after the Civil War – to exert their civil rights in the face of a nation that had long denied those rights to them.

How marriage has changed over centuries

Has marriage always had the same definition?Actually, the institution has been in a process of constant evolution. Pair-bonding began in the Stone Age as a way of organizing and controlling sexual conduct and providing a stable structure for child-rearing and the tasks of daily life. But that basic concept has taken many forms across different cultures and eras. "Whenever people talk about traditional marriage or traditional families, historians throw up their hands," said Steven Mintz, a history professor at Columbia University. "We say, 'When and where?'" The ancient Hebrews, for instance, engaged in polygamy — according to the Bible, King Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines — and men have taken multiple wives in cultures throughout the world, including China, Africa, and among American Mormons in the 19th century. Polygamy is still common across much of the Muslim world. The idea of marriage as a sexually exclusive, romantic union between one man and one woman is a relatively recent development. Until two centuries ago, said Harvard historian Nancy Cott, "monogamous households were a tiny, tiny portion" of the world population, found in "just Western Europe and little settlements in North America."

When did people start marrying? The first recorded evidence of marriage contracts and ceremonies dates to 4,000 years ago, in Mesopotamia. In the ancient world, marriage served primarily as a means of preserving power, with kings and other members of the ruling class marrying off daughters to forge alliances, acquire land, and produce legitimate heirs. Even in the lower classes, women had little say over whom they married. The purpose of marriage was the production of heirs, as implied by the Latin word matrimonium, which is derived from mater (mother).

When did the church get involved? In ancient Rome, marriage was a civil affair governed by imperial law. But when the empire collapsed, in the 5th century, church courts took over and elevated marriage to a holy union. As the church's power grew through the Middle Ages, so did its influence over marriage. In 1215, marriage was declared one of the church's seven sacraments, alongside rites like baptism and penance. But it was only in the 16th century that the church decreed that weddings be performed in public, by a priest, and before witnesses.

What role did love play? For most of human history, almost none at all. Marriage was considered too serious a matter to be based on such a fragile emotion. "If love could grow out of it, that was wonderful," said Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History. "But that was gravy." In fact, love and marriage were once widely regarded as incompatible with one another. A Roman politician was expelled from the Senate in the 2nd century B.C. for kissing his wife in public — behavior the essayist Plutarch condemned as "disgraceful." In the 12th and 13th centuries, the European aristocracy viewed extramarital affairs as the highest form of romance, untainted by the gritty realities of daily life. And as late as the 18th century, the French philosopher Montesquieu wrote that any man who was in love with his wife was probably too dull to be loved by another woman.

When did romance enter the picture? In the 17th and 18th centuries, when Enlightenment thinkers pioneered the idea that life was about the pursuit of happiness. They advocated marrying for love rather than wealth or status. This trend was augmented by the Industrial Revolution and the growth of the middle class in the 19th century, which enabled young men to select a spouse and pay for a wedding, regardless of parental approval. As people took more control of their love lives, they began to demand the right to end unhappy unions. Divorce became much more commonplace.

Did marriage change in the 20th century? Dramatically. For thousands of years, law and custom enforced the subordination of wives to husbands. But as the women's-rights movement gained strength in the late 19th and 20th centuries, wives slowly began to insist on being regarded as their husbands' equals, rather than their property. "By 1970," said Marilyn Yalom, author of A History of the Wife, "marriage law had become gender-neutral in Western democracy." At the same time, the rise of effective contraception fundamentally transformed marriage: Couples could choose how many children to have, and even to have no children at all. If they were unhappy with each other, they could divorce — and nearly half of all couples did. Marriage had become primarily a personal contract between two equals seeking love, stability, and happiness. This new definition opened the door to gays and lesbians claiming a right to be married, too. "We now fit under the Western philosophy of marriage," said E.J. Graff, a lesbian and the author of What Is Marriage For? In one very real sense, Coontz says, opponents of gay marriage are correct when they say traditional marriage has been undermined. "But, for better and for worse, traditional marriage has already been destroyed," she says, "and the process began long before anyone even dreamed of legalizing same-sex marriage."

Gay 'marriage' in medieval EuropeSame-sex unions aren't a recent invention. Until the 13th century, male-bonding ceremonies were common in churches across the Mediterranean. Apart from the couples' gender, these events were almost indistinguishable from other marriages of the era. Twelfth-century liturgies for same-sex unions — also known as "spiritual brotherhoods" — included the recital of marriage prayers, the joining of hands at the altar, and a ceremonial kiss. Some historians believe these unions were merely a way to seal alliances and business deals. But Eric Berkowitz, author of Sex and Punishment, says it is "difficult to believe that these rituals did not contemplate erotic contact. In fact, it was the sex between the men involved that later caused same-sex unions to be banned." That happened in 1306, when the Byzantine Emperor Andronicus II declared such ceremonies, along with sorcery and incest, to be unchristian.

Access options

Many people have helped us with comments on earlier drafts of this essay. We especially wish to thank Susan Rogers, Ellen Sewell, William Sewell, Jr., Charles Tilly, Marilyn Young, Richard Sennett, Natalie Davis, Sally Brown, Robert Brown, Lynn Hunt, Lynn Lees, and Maurine Greenwald for their critical readings of this paper.

A version of this paper was co-recipient of the Stephen Allen Kaplan Prize, University of Pennsylvania, 1973, and will appear in a forthcoming volume incorporating the Kaplan Lectures on the Family.

1 Goode , William , World Revolution and Family Patterns ( New York , 1963 ), 56 .Google Scholar Ivy Pinchbeck makes the opposite point—that occupational changes played a large part in women's emancipation—in the preface to the reprinted edition of her book, Women Workers and the Industrial Revolution, 1750–1850 ( New York , 1969 ), v .Google Scholar

2 Deldycke , T. , Gelders , H. and Limbor , J. M. , La Population active et sa structure , under the supervision of Bairoch , P. ( Brussells , 1969 ), 29 – 31 .Google Scholar The figures given for Italy indicate that 1881 had even higher proportion of women working. The 1901 census, however, has been shown to be more reliable, especially in designating occupation. In 1881, census categories tended to overestimate the numbers of women working. In 1901, about 32.5 percent of Italian women worked.

3 The percentage of women in ‘middle class’ (white collar) occupations—teachers, nurses, shop assistants, secretaries and civil servants—increased in England between 1881 and 1911, while the percentage of women employed in working class occupations fell.

Holcombe , Lee , Victorian Ladies at Work ( Hamden, Conn. , 1973 ), 216 .Google Scholar Holcombe shows that although mid-Victorian ideologies about women's place and women's dependent position in the patriarchal family were still being publicized, middle class women were increasingly entering the labor force. The reasons lie in demographic and economic realities, not ideology. The first of these was the surplus of unmarried or ‘redundant women’, in Harriet Martineau's phrase. These women, to whom the sex ratio denied husbands and for whom male mortality denied fathers and brothers, had to work. Furthermore, the expansion of the tertiary sector in England provided jobs for these women and for working class women who could take advantage of increased educational opportunities. In Holcombe's analysis, the development of feminist ideology about women's work accompanied change and justified it. It did not precede it or cause it in any sense.

In France, there was a similar move into ‘middle class’ occupations in the twentieth century. Clark , Francis , The Position of Women in Contemporary France ( London , 1937 ), 74 –5,Google Scholar gives the following figures for the percent female in selected occupations:

4 Pinchbeck, 315 Hutchins , E. L. , Women in Modern Industry ( London , 1915 ), 84 .Google Scholar

5 Louise A. Tilly, ‘Women at Work in Milan, Italy—1880—World War I’, paper presented to the American Historical Association annual meeting, December 28, 1972. The national distribution of women workers, in Italy as a whole, showed textiles more important than domestic service as an employer of women. Domestic servants were disproportionately concentrated in cities, textile production, outside cities.

6 Calculated from data in Deldycke et al., 174. Agricultural activity was unimportant in England and in the city of Milan, so French figures are made comparable by excluding agriculture.

7 By industrialization we mean the process in which, over time, secondary and tertiary economic activity gain in importance in an economy. This is accompanied by an increased scale of these activities and consequent increasing productivity per capita.

8 See Gross , Edward , ‘Plus ca change … ? The Sexual Structure of Occupations over Time’ , Social Problems , 16 ( Fall , 1968 ), 198 – 206 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar

9 Census data from 1871 to 1901 analyzed in Tilly , Louise A. , ‘The Working Class of Milan, 1881–1911’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, University of Toronto , 1974 .Google Scholar

10 Cohen , Miriam , ‘The Liberation of Working Class Women in England?’, unpublished paper, History Department, University of Michigan , 15 Hutchins 81 –2Google Scholar Cadbury , Edward , Matheson , M. Cecile and Shann , George , Woman's Work and Wages. A Phase of Life in An Industrial City ( Chicago , 1907 ), 219 Google Scholar Hewitt , Margaret , Wives and Mothers in Victorian Industry ( London , 1958 ), 17 .Google Scholar

14 Chatelain , Abel , ‘Migrations et domesticité feminine urbaine en France, XVIII siècle—XX siècle’ , Revue historique iconomique et sociale , 47 ( 1969 ), 521 Google Scholar Pyke , E. Royston , Golden Times ( New York , 1970 ), 156 .Google Scholar

15 McBride , Theresa , ‘Rural Tradition and the Process of Modernization: Domestic Servants in Nineteenth Century France’, unpublished doctoral dissertation, Rutgers University , 1973 , 85 Google Scholar Tilly (1974), 129–30. McBride found that in Versailles in the same period only 19.5 percent of female domestic servants were from urban working class families.

16 Ariès , Philippe , Centuries of Childhood: A Social History of Family Life , translated by Baldick , Robert ( London , 1962 )Google Scholar Banks , J. A. , Prosperity and Parenthood. A Study of Family Planning Among the Victorian Middle Classes ( London , 1954 )Google Scholar J. A. and Banks , Olive , Feminism and Family Planning in Victorian England ( New York , 1964 )Google Scholar all associate the idea of these separate feminine characteristics with the middle class. John Stuart Mill made a compelling argument for granting political equality to women while recognizing feminine preferences and qualities which distinguish women from men. See J. S. and Mill , H. T. , Essays on Sex Equality , Rossi , Alice , ed. ( Chicago , 1971 ).Google Scholar For analysis of hierarchical patterns see Rogers , Susan , ‘Woman's Place: Sexual Differentiation as Related to the Distribution of Power’, unpublished paper, Northwestern University , April, 1974 .Google Scholar

17 Laslett , Peter , The World We Have Lost ( New York , 1965 ).Google Scholar Among the many anthropological and historical studies of pre-industrial societies are Foster , George , ‘Peasant Society and the Image of the Limited Good’ , American Anthropologist , 67 ( 04 , 1965 ), 293 – 315 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Arensberg , Conrad and Kimball , Solon , Family and Community in Ireland ( Cambridge, Mass. , 1968 )CrossRefGoogle Scholar Blythe , Ronald , Akenfield, Portrait of an English Village ( New York , 1968 )Google Scholar Morin , Edgar , The Red and the White: Report from a French Village ( New York , 1970 )Google Scholar Walker , Mack , German Home Towns: Community, State and General Estates, 1648–1871 ( Ithaca, New York , 1971 ).Google Scholar

18 Engels , Frederick , The Origins of the Family, Private Property and the State ( New York , 1972 ), 81 .Google Scholar

19 Our notion is a variation of the one presented by Bert Hoselitz: ‘On the whole, the persistence of traditions in social behavior… may be an important factor mitigating the many dislocations and disorganizations which tend to accompany rapid industrialization and technical change’. Hoselitz , Bert and Moore , Wilbert , Industrialization and Society ( New York , 1966 ), 15 .Google Scholar

20 Lewis , W. Arthur , ‘Economic Development with Unlimited Supplies of Labour’, in Agarwala , A. N. and Singh , S. P. , eds., The Economics of Underdevelopment ( New York , 1963 ), 408 .Google Scholar

21 Shanin , Teodor , ‘The Peasantry as a Political Factor’, in Shanin , T. , ed., Peasants and Peasant Societies Selected Readings ( Penguin Books , 1971 ), 241 –4.Google Scholar A similar analysis of the peasant family in mid-twentieth century can be found in Mendras , Henri , The Vanishing Peasant. Innovation and Change in French Agriculture , translated by Lerner , Jean ( Cambridge, Mass. , 1970 ), 76 Google Scholar : “The family and the enterprise coincide: the head of the family is at the same time the head of the enterprise. Indeed, he is the one because he is the other… he lives his professional and his family life as an indivisible entity. The members of his family are also his fellow workers’.

22 Anderson , Michael , Family Structure in Nineteenth Century Lancashire ( Cambridge , 1971 ), 96 .Google Scholar

23 ‘ Giunta per la Inchiesta Agraria e sulle condizioni della Classe agricola , Atti ’, Rome, 1882 , Vol. VI , Fasc. II, 552, 559 , Fasc. Ill, 87 , 175 –6, 373, 504, 575.Google Scholar

24 Brekilien , Y. , La vie quotidienne des paysans en Bretagne au XIXe siécle ( Paris , 1966 ), 37 .Google Scholar Gouesse , Jean-Marie , ‘Parenté, famille et marriage en Normandie aux XVIIe et XVIII siècles’ , Annates, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations , 27e Année ( 07 – 10 , 1972 ), 1146 –7.Google Scholar

25 Basile Kerblay, ‘Chayanov and the Theory of Peasantry as a Specific Type of Economy’, in Teodor Shanin, ed., Peasants and Peasant Societies, op. cit. , 151 ,Google Scholar and A. V. Chayanov on the Theory of Peasant Economy , Thorner , Daniel , Kerblay , Basile and Smith , R. E. F. , eds. ( Homewood , 111., 1966 ), 21 , 60 .Google Scholar See also Dussourd , Henriette , Au même pot et au même feu: étude sur les communautés familiales agricoles du centre de la France ( Moulins , 1962 ).Google Scholar

26 For the most part, men worked outside the home. They performed public functions for the family and the farm. Women, on the other hand, presided over the interior of the house hold and over the private affairs of family life. Separate spheres and separate roles did not, however, imply discrimination or hierarchy. It appears, on the contrary, that neither sphere was subordinated to the other. This interpretation is, however, still a matter of dispute among anthropologists. See Roubin , Lucienne A. , ‘Espace masculin, espace feminin en communaute provencale’ , Annates, E.S.C. 26 ( 03 – 04 , 1970 ), 540 Google Scholar Rogers , ( 1974 ), op. cit. ,Google Scholar and Reiter , Rayna , ‘Men and Women in the South of France: Public and Private Domains’, unpublished paper, 1973 , New School for Social Research.Google Scholar

27 Pinchbeck , , Part I, passim. Alain Girard et Henri Bastide, ‘Le budget-temps de la femme mariée à la campagne’ , Population , 14 ( 1959 ), 253 –84.Google Scholar

28 Nadaud , Martin , Mémoires de Leonard, ancien garçon maçon ( Paris , 1895 , reissued 1948 ), 130 .Google Scholar Agricole Perdiguier recalled that his father made his daughters work in the fields: ‘Madeleine and Babet worked with us, like men’. Mémoires d'un compagnon ( Paris , 1964 ), 33 .Google Scholar

29 Quoted in Drake , Michael , Population and Society in Norway, 1735–1865 ( Cambridge , 1969 ), 145 , 139 –40.Google Scholar

30 Le Play , Frederick , Les ouvriers européens , 6 vols. ( Paris , 1855 – 1878 ), Vol. 5 , 45 .Google Scholar

31 Ibid., Vol. 6, 145, 127, and Vol. 5, 261, respectively.

32 Dunham , Arthur , The Industrial Revolution in France ( New York , 1935 ), 170 .Google Scholar

33 Ets , Marie Hall , Rosa, The Life of an Italian Immigrant ( Minneapolis , 1970 ).Google Scholar

34 Le Play, Vol. 3, 8 and Vol. 6, 109, respectively.

35 Pinchbeck, 59. See also Hubscher , R. H. , ‘ Une contribution à la connaissance des milieux populaire ruraux au XIXe siècle: Le livre de compte de la famille Flahaut, 1811–1877 ’, Revue d’histoire économique et sociale , 47 ( 1969 ), 361 – 403 .Google Scholar

37 Ibid., Vol. 3, 281. Le Play adds that ‘For each day of work… the women transport twice, a weight of about 210 kilograms a distance of one kilometer’. Vol. 3, 161.

39 Clark , Alice , The Working Life of Women in the Seventeenth Century ( London , 1919 ), 150 , 209 .Google Scholar

41 Forrest , Alan , ‘ The Condition of the Poor in Revolutionary Bordeaux ’, Past and Present , No. 59 ( 1973 ), 151 –2.Google Scholar

42 Hufton , Olwen , ‘ Women in Revolution, 1789–1796 ’, Past and Present , No. 53 ( 1971 ), 92 .Google Scholar

43 Thomas , Edith , Les Petroleuses ( Paris , 1963 ), 73 –9.Google Scholar The fleeting history of social concern and legislation during the Paris Commune of 1871 shows these values reflected in popular radicalism. Although women were not granted political equality by the Communards, illegitimate children were granted legal claims parallel to those of legitimate children. Among the institutions set up by the women of the Commune themselves were day nurseries for working mothers.

44 Rogers , Susan , ‘The Acceptance of Female Roles in Rural France’, unpublished paper, 1972 , 95 –6Google Scholar Anderson , , 95 Google Scholar Covello , Leonard , The Social Background of the Halo-American School Child ( Leiden , 1967 ),Google Scholar quotes a Sicilian proverb: ‘If the father is dead, the family suffers if the mother dies, the family cannot exist’, 208–9. A French version of this is, ‘Tant vaut la femme, tant vaut la ferme’, quoted in Plan de Travail, 1946–47, La Role de lafemme dans la vie rurate ( Paris , 1946 ).Google Scholar

45 Hufton , , 91 –3,Google Scholar Tilly , ( 1974 ), 259 ,Google Scholar Anderson , , 77 Google Scholar , Ohren , Laura , ‘The Welfare of Women in Laboring Families: England, 1860–1950’ , Feminist Studies , I ( Winter–Spring , 1973 ), 107 –25.Google Scholar

46 Hufton , , 93 Google Scholar Rogers , Susan , ‘Female Forms of Power and the Myth of Male Dominance: A Model of Female/Male Interaction’, unpublished paper, 1973 Google Scholar Clignet , Rémi , Many Wives, Many Powers Authority and Power in Polygynous Families ( Evanston , 1970 )Google Scholar Friedl , Ernestine , ‘ The Position of Women: Appearance and Reality ’, Anthropological Quarterly , 40 ( 1967 ), 97 – 108 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Michaelson , Evelyn and Goldschmidt , Walter , ‘ Female Roles and Male Dominance Among Peasants ’, Southwestern Journal of Anthropology , 27 ( 1971 ), 330 –52CrossRefGoogle Scholar Reiter , Rayna , ‘ Modernization in the South of France: The Village and Beyond ’, Anthropological Quarterly , 45 ( 1972 ), 35 – 53 CrossRefGoogle Scholar Riegelhaupt , Joyce , ‘ Salaoio Women: An Analysis of Informal and Formal Political and Economic Roles of Portuguese Peasant Women ’, Anthropological Quarterly , 40 ( 1967 ), 127 –38.CrossRefGoogle Scholar See also Huften , Olwen , ‘Women and the Family Economy in Nineteenth Century France’, unpublished paper, University of Reading, 1973 .Google Scholar

47 Le Play, Vol. 5, 404 and Vol. 6, 110, respectively.

48 That sometimes management roles implied literacy as well is indicated in a manuscript communicated to us by Judith Silver Frandzel, University of New Hampshire. It is the account book of a farm in Besse-sur-Barge, Sarthe, undated but from the 1840s, kept exclusively by the daughter of the family. She lists everything, from sale of animals and land to purchase of handkerchiefs, kitchen utensils or jewelry, for which money was spent or received.

49 Le Play, Vol. V, 427 see also, IV, 198 for the life history of the tinsmith of Savoy and his wife.

50 Le Play, Vol. 6, 110–11. See also de Lauwe , Marie José Chombart and de Lauwe , Paul-Henry Chombart , La Femme dans la société ( Paris , 1963 ), 158 .Google Scholar

51 Brekelien , , 69 .Google Scholar See also Anderson , , 77 Google Scholar Stearns , Peter , ‘Working Class Women in Britain, 1890–1914’, in Vicinus , Martha , ed., Suffer and Be Still ( Bloomington, Indiana , 1972 ), 104 , 108 Google Scholar Rogers , ( 1973 ), 28 .Google Scholar

54 Braun , Rudolf , ‘The Impact of Cottage Industry on an Agricultural Population’, in Landes , David , ed., The Rise of Capitalism ( New York , 1966 ), 63 .Google Scholar

57 Tilly , ( 1972 )Google Scholar this pattern of behavior also confirmed for pre-World War I Piedmont, another province of northern Italy, by interviews with several women who went, as young as age 10, to the city of Turin as domestic servants.

58 Braun , , in Landes, ed., 61 –3.Google Scholar

59 Smelser , Neil , Social Change in the Industrial Revolution: An Application of Theory to the British Cotton Industry ( Chicago , 1959 ), 188 –9.Google Scholar

61 Ets, 87–115 Italy , , Ufficio del Lavoro, Rapporti sulla ispezione del lavoro (1 dicembre 1906 –30 giugno ( 1908 )),Google Scholar pubblicazione del Ufficio del Lavoro, Serie C, 1909, 64, 93–4, describes the dormitories and work arrangements in north Italian textile mills Sullerot , Evelyne , Histoire et sociologie du travail féminin ( Paris , 1968 ), 91 –4Google Scholar Perrot , Michelle , Les Ouvriers en Gréve, France 1871–1890 ( Paris , 1974 ), 213 , 328 .Google Scholar Recent interpretations of similar American cases are to be found in Kasson , John , ‘The Factory as Republican Community: The Early History of Lowell, Mass.’, unpublished paper read at American Studies Convention, October 1973 ,Google Scholar and Harris , Alice Kessler , ‘Stratifying by Sex: Notes on the History of Working Women’, working paper, Hofstra University, 1974 .Google Scholar

62 Yeo , Eileen and Thompson , E. P. , The Unknown Mayhew ( New York , 1972 ), 116 –80.Google Scholar See also, Mayhew , Henry , London Labour and the London Poor , 4 vols. ( London , 1861 )Google Scholar , reprinted (London, 1967). Sullerot, 100, describes the household-like organization of seamstresses in small shops, in which the patronne and workers ate en famille, the less skilled workers dismissed, like children, before dessert.

65 Anderson , , 22 Google Scholar Lynn Lees, personal communication: ‘The sending back of money seems to have been a standard practice for Irish migrants everywhere. Rural Ireland has been living on the proceeds for several generations’.

70 Smuts , Robert , Women and Work in America ( New York , 1971 ), 9 .Google Scholar See also McLaughlin , Virginia Yans , ‘ Patterns of Work and, Family Organization: Buffalo's Italians ’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History , II (Autumn, 1971 ), 299 – 314 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar The predominance of the family interest over that of individuals and the importance of the family as a model for social relationships can be glimpsed in the lives of young working men as well as in those of young girls. The Irish custom of sending money to parents was followed by boys as well as girls. In Italian immigrant families in the U.S., boys and girls turned over their salaries to parents. In French working class families, likewise. The compagnonnage system offered boys sponsored migration and houses in which to live, complete with a substitute family of mère, père and freres. These houses seemed to offer this kind of family setting without the authoritarian aspects of the factory dormitories.

71 Cf. Shorter , Edward , ‘ Illegitimacy, Sexual Revolution and Social Change in Europe, 1750–1900 ’, Journal of Interdisciplinary History , 2 ( 1971 ), 237 –72CrossRefGoogle Scholar ‘ Capitalism, Culture and Sexuality: Some Competing Models ’, Social Science Quarterly ( 1972 ), 338 –56,Google Scholar and, most recently, ‘ Female Emancipation, Birth Control and Fertility in European History ’, American Historical Review , 78 ( 1973 ), 605 –40.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Shorter has argued that the increase in illegitimate fertility which began in the mid-eighteenth to late nineteenth centuries in Europe was preceded by a dramatic change in values. This change, he says, was stimulated by rebellion against parental authority and by exposure to ‘market values’ when young women broke with ‘old traditions’ and went out to work. The change was expressed in a new sexual ‘liberation’ of young working girls. They sought self-fulfillment and self-expression in sexual encounters. In the absence of contraception, they became pregnant and bore illegitimate children. We find Shorter's speculations imaginative but incorrect. He makes unfounded assumptions about pre-industrial family relationships and about patterns of work in these families. The actual historical experience of young women working in the nineteenth century was not what Shorter assumes it was. When one examines their history and finds that peasant values and family interests sent them to work, and when one examines the kinds of work they did and the pay they received, it is impossible to agree with Shorter that their experience was either radically different from that of women in the past, or was in any sense ‘emancipating’.

Shorter cannot demonstrate that attitudes changed he deduces that they did. We show that the behavior from which Shorter deduced changed values was consonant with older valus operating in changed circumstances. Illegitimacy rose at least partly as a consequence of a compositional change in population—i.e., the increasing presence of many more young women in sexually vulnerable situations as workers in cities, removed from family protection and assistance. Under these circumstances, illicit liaisons can be seen as alternate families and illegitimate children the consequence of an attempt to constitute the family work unit in a situation in which legal marriage sometimes could not be afforded, other times, was not felt necessary. Far from their own parents and the community which could have enforced compliance with an agreement to marriage which preceded sexual relations, women were more likely to bear illegitimate children. This is discussed more fully in the text below. See DePauw , J. , ‘ Amour illegitime et société à Nantes au XVIIIe siècle ’, Annates, Economies, Sociétés, Civilisations , 27e Année ( 07 – 10 , 1972 ), 1155 –82,CrossRefGoogle Scholar esp. 1163. De Pauw shows (1166) that promises of marriage in cases of illegitimacy increased as both illegitimacy increased and the unions which produced the bastards increasingly occurred between social equals in the eighteenth century. (In each subsequent version of his argument, Shorter has become less qualified and more insistent about the logic of his argument. Logic, however, ought not to be confused with actual historical experience and Shorter has little solid evidence from the past to support his speculation.) See Tilly , Louise , Scott , Joan and Cohen , Miriam , ‘Women's Work and European Fertility Patterns’, unpublished paper, 1973 .Google Scholar

72 Booth , Charles , Life and Labour of the People of London ( London , 1902 )Google Scholar Yeo , and Thompson , , 116 –80Google Scholar France , , Direction du Travail , Les associations professionelles ouvriéres , Vol. 4 ( 1903 ), 797 – 805 Google Scholar Leroy-Beaulieu , P. , Le travail des femmes au XIXe siécle ( Paris , 1873 ), 50 – 145 .Google Scholar

73 Hair , P. E. H. , ‘ Bridal Pregnancy in Rural England in Earlier Centuries ’, Population Studies , 20 ( 1966 – 1967 ), 233 –43,CrossRefGoogle ScholarPubMed and ‘Bridal Pregnancy in Earlier Rural England, Further Examined’, ibid., 24 (1970), 59–70 Sheppard , Thomas F. , Loumarin in the Eighteenth Century: A Study of a French Village ( Baltimore , 1971 )Google Scholar Wrigley , E. A. , Population and History ( New York , 1969 ), 61 – 106 Google Scholar Wikman , K. R. V. , Die Einleitung der Ehe: Eine vergleichende Ethnosoziologische untersuchung über die Vorstufe der Ehe in den sitten des Schwedischen Volkstums ( Abo , 1937 Acta Academie Aboensis , Humaniora, II).Google Scholar

74 Yeo , and Thompson , , 167 –80.Google Scholar For eighteenth century Nantes, Pauw , De , 1166 –7,Google Scholar shows how economic promises to find the woman work, or teach her a craft led to liaisons which ended in pregnancy Thomas , , 20 –2, 76 –9,Google Scholar describes common law marriage in the Parisian working class at the time of the Commune.

75 Yeo , and Thompson , , 141 , 148 , 169 Google Scholar Sigsworth , E. M. and Wylie , J. J. , ‘A Study of Victorian Prostitution and Venereal Disease’, in Vicinus, cited above, 81 .Google Scholar

76 Chayanov and other economic studies of peasantry remark on the concept of ‘target income’. On the demographic reflections of the developmental cycle see Berkner , Lutz , ‘ The Stem Family and the Developmental Cycle of the Peasant Household: An Eighteenth-Century Austrian Example ’, American Historical Review , 77 ( 04 1972 ), 398 – 418 .CrossRefGoogle Scholar Lynn Lees is working on urban applications of the developmental cycle concept with English and Irish workers’ families.

Relevant Books

Henry James, The Bostonians.

Esther D. Rothblum and Kathleen A. Brehony, editors, Boston Marriages: Romantic But Asexual Relationships Among Contemporary Lesbians.

David Mamet, Boston Marriage: A Play.

Gioia Diliberto, A Useful Woman: The Early Life of Jane Addams.

Lillian Faderman, Surpassing the Love of Men: Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women From the Renaissance to the Present. I

Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt: 1884-1933.

Blanche Wiesen Cook, Eleanor Roosevelt: 1933-1938.

Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America.

A century and a half of marriage

This article was published more than 4 years ago. Some information in it may no longer be current.

Marriage has gotten a rough ride in recent years. As Canadians live longer, many are having second thoughts about monogamy over the long haul. The divorce statistics are bracing: Some 41 per cent of marriages will end before the 30th anniversary in this country. Some partners are hoping to beat the odds by not marrying in the first place, opting to live common law or even in separate homes instead. We are starting to ask some hard questions of marriage: Does it really strengthen a commitment? Is the only sure thing about a wedding the ballooning price tag?

Despite the bad rap, most Canadians will end up marrying someone at some point in their lives – and many will spend at least $30,000 doing it. Today, they marry for love, often wedding their best friends and work confidants. The institution has evolved past strict duty and now means many different things to many different people. Still, some elements remain constant: A wedding confers social recognition and signifies "adulthood," ensuring that a shared estate pays forward to the children.

We have a sense of what matrimony means now, but what did it mean to generations past in Canada? Well, the stakes were infinitely higher than how the Pinterest photos turned out. For many years, marriage empowered husbands and suppressed wives, who would lose all of their property rights, earnings and custody of their own children to their "better half" when they put a ring on it. Marriage carried a heavy toll for interracial partners and gay couples, who were long denied the right to wed in peace, or at all. For these lovers, getting married was about much more profound recognition as human beings.

Story continues below advertisement

Ahead of Canada's 150th anniversary, The Globe and Mail delved into the major milestones, stunts and scandals of this country's matrimonial history – the heavy and the light. Did you know that prior to 1882, a man who tried to marry his dead wife's sister could be accused of incest? Or that Canadians divorcing before 1986 would often hire private investigators to spy on their cheating spouses? Or that many wives in Quebec couldn't get a bank account without hubby signing off – until 1964? The Globe traces the evolution of marriage in Canada and the spouses who fundamentally changed the institution.

1867: In the beginning

Government of Canada Archives

The British North America Act split up jurisdiction over marriage in Canada: The federal government was handed control over marriage and divorce, while provinces were left to handle ceremonies as well as marital property rights, postdivorce and remarriage. Officials were wary of the situation playing out in the United States, where marriage and divorce were left entirely up to individual states, resulting in a piecemeal system that allowed bickering couples to cross state lines in pursuit of quickie splits. After Confederation, Canadian newspapers would often set this country apart from the United States by invoking the "morality" of Canadian families, mocking the lax divorce laws of our supposedly more promiscuous neighbours to the south.

1872: Steps toward gender equality

Captain Perry and his wife, January 1871, Ottawa, Canada.

Topley Studio/Library and Archives Canada

The slow legalization of married women's property rights began in Ontario, which gave wives the right to earn and control their own wages in 1872. Before the law changed, they had to fork their earnings over to their husbands. Ontario also went first with the 1884 Married Women's Property Act, which gave wives the right to buy their own property (other provinces and territories trickled along in the subsequent decades). Things were perhaps most dire in Quebec, where wives who hadn't signed a special marriage contract were infantilized as "legal incapables" and needed their husbands' permission for nearly every facet of adult life, from signing a lease to opening a bank account. This finally changed in 1964, when Bill 16 gave married women legal capacity to act independently of their husbands.

1882: Sister act

"People moved in smaller circles in those days and the range of marriage partners was less extensive," legal historian Philip Girard said, explaining why a man might want to marry his dead wife's sister. "Many people thought that this was actually the ideal situation: The deceased wife's sister would be familiar with the family and she'd already be an aunt of the children." But it was a touchy idea both for Anglican lawmakers, who considered the setup incestuous, and proto-feminists, who feared it might "complicate and sexualize family relationships, that even when his wife was alive, the husband might already be looking at the sister as a potential replacement," Girard said. Nonetheless, a Quebec MP appealed to have the laws reformed and, in 1882, husbands whose wives had died were permitted to wed their wives' sisters. Not surprisingly, the prospect of women marrying their deceased husbands' brothers was a bridge too far: That remained illegal until 1923.

1887: Making it official

A federal order-in-council legally recognizes traditional indigenous marriage, meaning these couples didn't have to go the Christian route to wed, the only option available to non-indigenous partners. Marriages performed according to indigenous customs were honoured, so long as they were not polygamous. In an era plagued with high anxiety over polygamous Mormons, who practised plural marriage until 1890, the Canadian government was desperate to protect monogamy.

1919: Female Refuges Act

A draconian amendment in this year to the 1897 Female Refuges Act allowed Ontario officials to incarcerate unwed and pregnant women between the ages of 16 and 35. It arose in the wake of the First World War, University of Ottawa law professor Constance Backhouse writes, when "anxieties about the disruption of gender roles and working-class female sexuality were running high." In her 2008 book, Carnal Crimes: Sexual Assault Law in Canada, 1900-1975, Backhouse notes that parents could haul daughters under the age of 21 before a judge if they proved "unmanageable or incorrigible" (other provinces used juvenile-delinquency laws to control young women in similar ways).

Hundreds of Ontario women were imprisoned for "morality offences" through the Depression and Second World War. Most were pregnant or had had extramarital sex with men who weren't white they were often forced to raise infants in prison or lose them to Children's Aid. Many were poor and uneducated, and many had been victims of sexual abuse before being imprisoned. "They went from the frying pan and into the fire," Backhouse said. "It's a terrible history."

Story continues below advertisement

1920: Hollywood-bound

Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford

Toronto-born actress Mary Pickford married swashbuckling actor Douglas Fairbanks on March 28, 1920, just 26 days after divorcing her ex in Nevada, where it was convenient to dissolve a marriage quickly. Local legislators contested the paperwork, a battle that would go on for two years. The public didn't seem to care and the celebrity couple were swarmed by fans on a honeymoon through Paris and London. They settled at Pickfair, a 25-room mansion in Beverly Hills and the first with a pool, through which the half-Canadian duo once paddled a canoe.

1925: Splitsville

For the first time, the new Marriage and Divorce Act let Canadian women divorce on the same grounds as men: adultery. Prior to 1925, wives had to prove their husbands were not just cheating but also engaging in desertion, bigamy, rape, sodomy or bestiality. Even the government's insistence on adultery as grounds for divorce was problematic, given that some couples were trying to split under less trying circumstances, such as falling out of love.

1930: Miscegenation blues

Unlike the United States, Canada had no blatant laws banning interracial marriage. But while the stigma was more informal in this country, it could be just as terrifying. As Backhouse describes in her 1999 book, Colour-Coded: A Legal History of Racism in Canada, 1900-1950, much of this terror was at the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. In 1927, Klansmen congregated in Moose Jaw, where they burned a 60-foot cross and lectured a large crowd on the risks of mixed-race marriage.

Three years later, on Feb. 28, 1930, some 75 Ku Klux Klan men dressed in white hoods and gowns marched into Oakville, Ont., and burned another massive wooden cross. They had arrived to intimidate Isabel Jones, a white woman, and her fiancé, Ira Junius Johnson, a man presumed to be black but later found to be of mixed Cherokee and white descent. The woman's mother had summoned the KKK to separate them.

The Klansmen kidnapped Jones, 21, and dumped her off at the Salvation Army, where they would keep surveillance on her for days from a car parked outside. In front of the couple's home, they burned a cross and threatened Johnson. During the invasion, the police chief recognized many of the Klansmen as prominent business owners from Hamilton as they plucked off their hoods to shake his hand.

It was only after several black Toronto lawyers pressured the Ontario government that four of the Klansmen were arrested for being "disguised by night," a trivial charge related to burglary. Just one of the four men – a Hamilton chiropractor and father of five – was convicted and given a measly $50 fine. An appeals court eventually sentenced the Klansman to three months in prison. Undaunted, Jones and Johnson married one month after the ordeal.

Story continues below advertisement

1939: The colour line, continued

Canadian author Velma Demerson in 1950 in Vancouver, B.C., before leaving to join her son, Harry, in Hong Kong. Handout

Four months pregnant and eating breakfast with her fiancé in their pyjamas at their Toronto home, 18-year-old Velma Demerson was confronted by her father and two police officers. Demerson's father had sicced the cops on his daughter for what was scandalous behaviour at the time: Demerson, a white, unmarried woman, was living with a Chinese man, Harry Yip, and was carrying his child. Under the Female Refuges Act, Demerson was deemed "incorrigible and unmanageable" and incarcerated for nine months at Toronto's Andrew Mercer Reformatory for Women, where she was locked in a seven-foot-by-four-foot cell. While pregnant, Demerson was experimented on and mutilated by a female doctor who, disturbingly, believed the prisoners' genitals held clues about their purported immorality. "I blame the institution. The government allowed it, let's face it," Demerson, now 96, said from Toronto. "We have a lot to know about our background, in terms of how women were treated." Demerson brought a civil action against the Ontario government in 2002 for unauthorized imprisonment, pain and suffering. She was offered a settlement and a public apology.

1968: The blame game

The passing of Canada's first unified federal divorce law allowed divorce on the grounds of adultery, mental or physical cruelty, desertion, a spouse in jail or a separation period of three years spent living apart. In an earlier era, Canadian spouses had to publicize their intent to divorce in multiple newspapers over six months – including details of the demise of their relationships – then petition the government to let them go their separate ways. But while the 1968 law was more civilized, for feuding husbands and wives, three years of separation predivorce was an excruciatingly long wait.

Those hoping to speed things up had to prove to judges that they had been cheated on or abused. Toronto lawyer Philip Epstein remembers those early, extra messy days before no-fault divorce came into play in 1986. "They were interesting times," said Epstein, who started practising law in 1970. "You had to have private investigators hanging out of hotel windows and sitting in cars, watching people go in and go out, to prove the adultery. That was a whole industry. It was sleazy."

1971: Trudeaumania

Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, 51, gazes at this bride, 22-year-old Margaret, during a quiet moment at their reception following their wedding Mar. 4, 1971 in North Vancouver.

FRED SCHIFFER/Canadian Press

It was Canada's royal wedding: On March 4, 1971, Prime Minister (and most eligible bachelor) Pierre Trudeau, 51, quietly married Margaret Sinclair, 22, in Vancouver. The reception was intimate, with just 14 guests attending. The menu included turtle soup and pear flambé, but even the caterers were surprised to see who they were hosting, having been told it was an anniversary party. The wedding photographer was also left in the dark, as was Trudeau's entire cabinet: The PM liked to keep his private life private, and so they thought he'd gone skiing. When the unhappy marriage dissolved in 1984, Trudeau became Canada's first divorced, single-dad Prime Minister.

1972: Pioneers of love

The road to legalized gay marriage was long, and several couples paved the way. On Feb. 2, 1972, Montreal singer and journalist Michel Girouard and pianist Réjean Tremblay signed business partnership and personal union contracts in Canada's first widely publicized gay marriage ceremony, held at a downtown discotheque. Two years year later, Richard North and Chris Vogel were married at Winnipeg's Unitarian Universalist Church. They were issued a certificate, which now hangs in the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, but were denied an official marriage licence. As of 2017 – 43 years after their ceremony and more than a decade after Manitoba legalized gay marriage – the province has yet to register the men. Vogel, a retired civil servant, and North, a retired nurse, have launched a human-rights complaint against the Government of Manitoba, claiming it has discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation – then and since.

"We discovered back in 1974 that of all the things that people didn't want homosexuals to have, the one thing against which there was the strongest resistance, was marriage. Perhaps that's what caused us, in part, to do it," said Vogel, who is now 69. "There does seem to be an inexplicable but nevertheless lingering refusal to fully accept the notion of same-sex marriage. In nooks and crannies all over the place, people are still holding out."

1973: Women's work

The Irene Murdoch case in The Globe and Mail on October 11, 1975.

The case of an abused Alberta ranch wife named Irene Murdoch served as a potent catalyst for the overhaul of matrimonial property rights in Canada. Murdoch had reportedly been beaten so severely by her husband that her face and speech were permanently damaged.

She divorced him after 25 years of marriage, requesting a share of their ranch. It was a prosperous operation she'd helped build, but the title remained in her husband's name. Murdoch insisted that she had paid for part of the ranch and was responsible for all the haying and raking, driving of tractors and trucks as well as dehorning, branding and vaccinating cattle for five months out of every year. She was initially awarded a pittance ($200 a month in "maintenance" payments) and denied any share of the property. The Supreme Court of Canada gave her ex-husband all the ranch land, the home and its furniture, the horses, cattle and machinery equipment the wife was also ordered to pay a portion of his legal costs.

In a much-maligned ruling, Justice Ronald Martland argued that Murdoch's free labour hadn't saved her husband any money. What followed was mass public outcry demanding nationwide reform of family law to treat spouses as equal. The Murdoch case "shocked the consciousness of Canadians," Mysty Clapton, assistant dean at the University of Western Ontario's law school, wrote in 2008. It also helped unify wives under one movement: When a skit about Murdoch's nightmare toured through rural communities, "It struck the farm women like a thunderbolt," one of the performers had said. "Each of them suddenly realized, 'I am Mrs. Murdoch.'"

1974: The stuff of gossip

In a highly publicized case, Seagram's tycoon Edgar Bronfman Sr. sued to annul his marriage to Lady Carolyn Townshend on the grounds their union was never legally consummated. During the bitter trial, the distiller testified that they'd had sex more than 25 times before the wedding, but never after. Bronfman demanded the return of several prenuptial gifts, including a million-dollar trust fund, $50,000 of jewels and a baronial mansion in New York.

His wife balked at the story, claiming she had instigated sex with her drunk husband on their Acapulco honeymoon, thereby consummating the marriage. The pair eventually reached an out-of-court settlement and their stormy marriage was annulled, but not before all of Canada cringed.

1983: No means no

A disturbing fact: Just 34 years ago, rape was considered to be an offence only outside of marriage. "Husbands could do with their wives as they wished: Women were deemed to be sexual property," said Backhouse, who holds the University Research Chair on Sexual Assault Legislation in Canada.

On Jan. 4, 1983, Bill C-127 came into effect and, for the first time, the Criminal Code made clear that spousal sexual assault was now a crime. Still, Backhouse argues, "There's a legacy here that we haven't been able to shed." In 2015, a survey from the Canadian Women's Foundation found that more than 10 per cent of Canadians still believe spouses do not need to get consent from each other before having sex.

1985: Status update

Indigenous women who married non-indigenous men faced prejudice well before Confederation. In 1876, the Indian Act made this discrimination legal, decreeing that indigenous women would be stripped of official Indian status for marrying non-native men. This meant women (and their children) lost the right to live on their ancestral reserves, among other legal and societal losses.

Evelyne St-Onge was exiled from her Innu community in 1968 after marrying Gilles Audette, a white Quebecker man she met while looking for a date for her graduation from nursing school. "When I met him it was like I'd known him for a long time," St-Onge, now 71, said through a translator. Their marriage six months later was met by a warning from her father: "He told me, 'You're marrying someone who's different from your own nation. You're going to lose a lot.' I was in love and I didn't care." When their daughter, Michèle, was born in 1971, the family moved to St-Onge's parents' reserve near Schefferville, Que., where the exclusion grew palpable: "The elders told me that I had betrayed them by marrying a white person. They told me I no longer belonged here," St-Onge said.

St-Onge and her husband split in 1979, and she moved Michèle and son Benoît to Maliotenam, an Innu community on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. Here, St-Onge had a son named Sylvestre with an Innu man.

The prejudice persisted: This boy was refused vaccination because of his mother's prior marriage to a white man, which had legally stripped her of native status. "I was considered white," St-Onge said. "They said in order for Sylvestre to be considered Innu, his biological Innu father had to adopt him." Her mixed-race children, meanwhile, faced racist taunts in both provincial and Innu schools in Quebec. "It caused me a lot of pain as a mother," St-Onge said.

In 1974, St-Onge co-founded Quebec Native Women to fight the discriminatory clauses in the Indian Act. In 1985, when the laws finally changed, she re-registered as an Innu in Ottawa and got her status back. "It meant my children would be protected in the future," St-Onge said of the victory. "It was a war. It was my story, but it's also the story of a lot of native women."

1986: At last!

The advent of no-fault divorce meant most spouses no longer needed to get into the nitty-gritty of their dissolutions before a judge. Now, after living apart for just one year, they could simply pen in "marriage breakdown" and get out of Dodge.

1988: He shoots, he scores

Wayne Gretzky gives a thumbs-up as he and his wife Janet Jones leave St. Joseph’s Basilica July 16, 1988 after being wed before 700 friends and relatives in Edmonton.

DAVE BUSTON/The Canadian Press

Wayne Gretzky and bride Janet Jones set off wedding fever in Edmonton with their 1988 nuptials, as 5,000 well-wishers crowded outside St. Joseph's Basilica to get a glimpse of the Great One – and Jones's gown. Memorable for its enormous leg-of-mutton sleeves, Jones's dress reportedly cost $40,000 and took 1,500 hours to sew. The wedding gifts filled three rooms at a local hotel, the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno reported, and included a gold swan from Soviet goalie Vladislav Tretiak (swans are good luck, the Russian explained, because they mate for life).

1993: Who needs a piece of paper?

Before Catherine Peter moved in with William Beblow, he was spending $350 a month on a housekeeper – money he saved when they decided to live together. The couple never officially married, but she cared for six children (four hers and two his) and tended to the pigs and chickens on the property. When the relationship dissolved 12 years later, Beblow's lawyers claimed his girlfriend had been doing the housework out of "natural love and affection," that he hadn't been enriched by his partner's housework and that she didn't deserve a share of the family assets. Supreme Court Justice Beverley McLachlin disagreed, writing that this attitude about gender roles "systematically devalues the contributions which women tend to make to the family economy." Peter got the family home as a result. It was a powerful statement about the value of domestic work: Peter's toiling in the home had distinct economic value.

1994: Power of love

Quebec pop star Celine Dion and her husband, Rene Angelil, pose for photographers at a news conference following their wedding ceremony in Montreal in 1994.

With a towering, seven-pound crystal tiara perched on her head and a 20-foot-train behind her, Quebec pop goddess Celine Dion wed her manager and long-time flame, René Angélil, in an over-the-top ceremony at Montreal's Notre-Dame Basilica. Hundreds lined the streets to gawk and scream at Dion, 26, and the husband twice her age. The whole spectacle was broadcast live on Canadian TV.

2001: Trail-blazing down the aisle

Anne Vatour and her partner, Elaine Vatour, attend service at Metropolitan Community Church of Toronto where the first of three Banns of Matrimony were read on Dec. 10, 2000. Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

Elaine and Anne Vautour's wedding day was extraordinarily nerve-racking. The officiant, Rev. Brent Hawkes, wore a bulletproof vest, having been accosted that morning by a woman in the front pew of Toronto's Metropolitan Community Church. Anne, then a daycare teacher, and Elaine, a counsellor for homeless men, were picked up by a private security firm in an armoured Yukon SUV and then driven around the neighbourhood.

"I found it intimidating," remembered Elaine, now 59. "Every minute, they'd say, 'Estimated time of arrival: Eight minutes. Seven minutes. Six minutes.' When we got to the church there was a whole row of police officers from our Yukon to the door, congratulating us all the way in."

The Toronto ceremony – a double wedding that also saw two men, Joe Varnell and Kevin Bourassa, marry that day – was a key contribution in the early fight to legalize gay marriage in Canada. Hawkes had cleverly used the Marriages Act, a traditional, religious holdover that allows a marriage licence to be issued if "banns" (or announcements) are published on three consecutive Sundays without a valid objection. Even so, Ontario's Registrar-General refused to certify the Vautours' licence and the women had to wait until the province legalized gay marriage in 2003 to have their marriage officially registered.

"We did it because we both come from families where people had been married for a very long time we believed in the long-term stuff of marriage. But a lot of it was also about the community," said Anne, now 54. She recalled a gay Russian man who approached them at church a year after the wedding: "He had heard about our event when he was suicidal and it gave him the hope to keep living. This is why we did it."

2003: Ontario goes first

Canada's first legal same-sex marriage was officiated on June 10, 2003, mere hours after Ontario's Court of Appeal declared the Canadian law on traditional marriage unconstitutional. The couple was Toronto's Michael Leshner and Michael Stark – dubbed "the Michaels" – who landed the title of Time Canada's Newsmakers of the Year.

2005: Same-sex marriage for real

With the passage of the gender-neutral Civil Marriage Act on July 20, 2005, gay marriage became legal across Canada. Just three other countries in the world had legalized gay marriage up to this point: the Netherlands in 2001, Belgium in 2003 and Spain two weeks before Canada in 2005. Some 3,000 same-sex couples had already married in the eight provinces and one territory that had legalized gay marriage before the federal decision.

2011: Couples only

Winston Blackmore, the religious leader of the polygamous community of Bountiful, B.C. shares a laugh with six of his daughters and some of his grandchildren on Monday, April 21, 2008.


Six years ago, the B.C. Supreme Court upheld a 127-year-old criminal law against polygamy, condemning the practice for endangering women and children. The decision followed an investigation into Winston Blackmore, who was bishop of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), a Mormon splinter group that holds polygamy as one of it tenets.

In Bountiful, a small community in southeastern British Columbia, Blackmore had 27 wives and fathered 145 children he is now awaiting trial on polygamy charges. In his 335-page decision upholding the ban on polygamy, Chief Justice Robert Bauman wrote about the practice's harms "to women, to children, to society and to the institution of monogamous marriage."

Critics of the decision took issue with its emphasis on monogamy over all other types of relationships, including benign, polyamorous liaisons between consenting adults who have no intention of marrying.

2013: So, about that piece of paper

Canadians are increasingly choosing common-law relationships over marriage, and property rights are a bit of a legal Wild West in the court system. Many co-habitating partners are unclear about what they owe and are owed should their live-in relationships dissolve.

Two 2013 provincial decisions took opposite approaches to the problem.

In January, the Supreme Court of Canada decided that common-law partners in Quebec were not on the hook for spousal support or property division in the event of a breakup. While the majority of the judges agreed that parts of the Quebec Civil Code discriminate against common-law couples by not extending the same legal protections doled out to married couples, they ultimately decided it was more important to protect freedom of choice, in this case common-law partners choosing to remain outside the legal rules of marriage.

Women's rights groups criticized the decision, saying it leaves women in such relationships – including women who may have wanted to marry their long-term partners but were denied – particularly vulnerable to poverty.

Later that year, the opposite scenario played out in British Columbia.

A new Family Law Act decreed that living together for two years or more gave common-law partners the same rights and obligations as married spouses, including mandatory sharing of properties and debts they accrued during their relationships.

"It's a momentous change because it attaches life-changing consequences to what are in some cases informal living arrangements," The Globe and Mail warned at the time, calling the ruling "state interference."

Some common-law partners protested, too, saying they hadn't consented to being "married." For those who were disgruntled, British Columbia offered opt-out contracts – but couples would need a lawyer for that.

2014: My Big, Fat Gay Wedding

Dayna Murphy, left, and her partner, Shannon St. Germain, dance after getting married during a mass LGBTQ wedding at Casa Loma in June 2014.

Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Three thousand hors d'oeuvre, 4,000 glasses of sparkling wine, 12 officiants from 12 different faiths and 120 LGBTQ couples graced the grounds of Toronto's Casa Loma for an epic same-sex wedding when the city hosted WorldPride in the summer of 2014. Couples from all over the world, from Australia and Brazil to Texas and Taiwan, descended on the kitschy castle on a hill, saying "I do" in unison.

Some had been together for decades others had travelled from less-progressive countries, where their unions would not be legally recognized. "We hope that … couples here today will take this energy back to wherever they come from," Toronto city councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam told The Canadian Press, "and that they will continue the fight for equality back home."

2016: Annulment, 2.0

Frozen-food heiress Eleanor McCain launched an annulment case against her husband, Jeff Melanson, former CEO of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. In court filings, McCain alleged that she'd been "tricked" into the nine-month marriage, which ended, she said, with an abrupt e-mail from him.

She alleged that her estranged husband was a philanderer with an Ashley Madison account who'd harassed female staff at Alberta's Banff Centre, where he'd previously been president. McCain claimed there was no "free and enlightened consent" in the marriage, which wouldn't have gone down "had she known the truth about him."

Instead of handing her ex a divorce, she pursued an annulment to freeze him out. Melanson disputed McCain's claims, telling The Globe they are "incredibly undignified." This heated legal battle continues.

Women in Victorian England

Men’s and women’s roles became more sharply defined during the Victorian period than arguably at any time in history. In earlier centuries it was usual for women to work alongside husbands and brothers in the family business, but as the nineteenth century progressed, middle-class men increasingly commuted to their place of work – the factory, shop or office – and their wives, daughters and sisters were left at home to oversee domestic duties. The two sexes came to inhabit completely different spheres, meeting together only at breakfast and dinner.

From the 1830s, women started to adopt the crinoline, a huge bell-shaped skirt that made it virtually impossible to engage in domestic work, which was deputed to an army of servants.

The ideology that supported this gender separation saw women having different ‘natural’ charcteristics to men. Women’s nature was seen as passive while men’s was active. Women were considered physically weaker and therefore best suited to staying at home. In addition, they were morally superior to men. It was their duty to provide a counter to the moral taint their menfolk incurred by labouring all day in the public sphere. And their duty to prepare the next generation to continue the same way of life.

Women, such as Alessia Renville in House of Glass, occupied an unhappy position in mid-Victorian society. They were poorly educated and barred from any form of higher education. Society considered it unfeminine to devote time to intellectual pursuits in case it usurped men’s ‘natural’ intellectual superiority. Some doctors reported that too much study had a damaging effect on the ovaries, turning attractive young women into dried-up prunes. Instead of intellectual study, therefore, women were coached in ‘accomplishments’ – painting, music, a smattering of foreign languages perhaps.

The home was their world since they were excluded entirely from public life: barred from universities, from following a profession and from voting in any election. If they were forced to work due to adverse family circumstances, the job would be low status and ill paid. Being a governess was one of the few posts a middle-class girl could take and she would only do so in extreme circumstances, for the salary was meagre and her treatment often unkind. Working-class women, of course, had a very different experience. They began work around ten years old, often in domestic service, or working as factory operatives or agricultural labourers, and continued to work until they married. If their husband earned sufficient to support them, they would stop – otherwise they worked all their life, taking short breaks to give birth.

A nineteenth century verse on Woman’s Rights

To marry and have children was seen by society as women’s destiny and for all classes marriage remained the main goal of a woman’s life. Single women were pitied and attracted social disapproval, yet in 1850 women outnumbered men by a considerable margin with a third of all women over twenty unmarried. At the same time, a young girl was not expected to focus too obviously on finding a husband. Being ‘forward’ in the company of men suggested sexual appetite at a time when women were assumed to desire marriage because it allowed them to become mothers, rather than enabling them to pursue sexual or emotional satisfaction.

Girls usually married in their early to mid-twenties, with their groom typically five years older. This reinforced the ‘natural’ hierarchy between the sexes and also made good financial sense. A young man needed to be able to show the girl’s father that he earned enough money to support a wife and any future children.

The New Swell’s Night Guide, a guide to finding and approaching actresses and prostitutes, estimated date 1840.

Some young men managed to stay chaste until they married, but plenty resorted to using prostitutes. All the major cities had red light districts where it was easy to find a woman you could pay for sex. Syphilis and other sexual diseases were rife, and many men unwittingly passed on the infection to their wives. In the marriage service, women promised to ‘obey’ their husbands: legally a man could force his wife to have sex and beat her if she refused. If she tried to run away, the police could return her to her husband. Any children from the marriage were legally his and he could choose to take them away without reason and send them to be raised elsewhere. When Alessia leaves her husband in House of Glass, the stakes are enormous – she knows she risks losing her precious daughters.

It was unlikely that a woman could do anything about the situation if she were unhappy in her marriage. Once married, a woman forfeited whatever small rights she had. In terms of property, everything she owned, inherited or earned passed immediately to her husband. Even if a woman came from a rich family, she would need to have no brothers and remain unmarried in order to live independently, since wealth automatically passed down the male line. The only legal avenue through which married women could reclaim property was widowhood. Marital separation, whether initiated by the husband or wife, usually left the women economically destitute. Divorce was extremely expensive and almost impossible for a woman to obtain, since whatever money she possessed had already passed to her husband. In addition, adultery on the husband’s part was insufficient grounds for a woman to sue for divorce, whereas it was grounds for a man to divorce his wife. Augustus Egg’s Past and Present is a vivid depiction of what was likely to happen to a woman foolish enough to seek pleasure outside the marriage.

This article is based on research undertaken for my novel, House of Glass

Love and An Ordinary Marriage in 19th-century Russia

This week I spoke to Kate Antonova about the relationship between Natalia and Andrei Chikhachev – a marriage rooted in the depths of Russia and illuminated by the diaries that they both wrote throughout their marriage.

Holly Smith: Hello, and welcome back to Past Loves – the new weekly history podcast that explores affection, infatuation and attachment across time to bring you an insight into the lighter side of history. I’m Holly, your true romantic host, and I am so excited about today’s episode. Anyone who knows me will know that I am mildly obsessed with Russian history. It is the love of my life. And I rarely get to have conversations with people about the joys of Russian history. So to be able to speak to my guest today I was in absolute heaven I had a whale of a time, especially because I was able to discuss this really wonderful love story centered around an amazing couple in my favourite place and time period. And well, I think you can hear from the interview that I essentially feel like all of my Christmases have come at once.

It was an absolute joy talking to my guest Associate Professor of Russian history at Queens College in the City University of New York, Kate Antonova. So Kate is also the author of An Ordinary Marriage: The World of a Gentry Family in Provincial Russia. And this is a book about the relationship between Natalia and Andrea Chikhachev and they, as you will find out, are a fairly ordinary couple. But it is the diaries that both of these kept throughout their marriage that makes this pair remarkable. And these are diaries that have survived revolution, two world wars and the Soviet period when archives were being centralized. So the fact that these diaries are still there, and still offer this quite incredible, multifaceted look at a marriage is really, really special. And what I love most about these diaries is the insight into a marriage that endured that they give us and not only a marriage that endured but also a marriage that brings into question our idea of what a traditional marriage may be. This is a marriage and a love story centered around family and attachment. And it is so unique in how we’re able to tell it but it gives us so much. I really hope that from this episode, it’s clear just how deeply important micro histories of love stories such as these are to our greater understanding of the history of love and attachment and affection as a whole.

We start by setting the scene in the long 19th Century, because this is an important backdrop to their lives and the long 19th century in Russia, which starts with the death of Catherine the Great in 1796 and then goes through until the revolution, is a time of massive change, quite obviously, and this is crucial to their life as a couple. So we delve into that and then we look into how they built a marriage that lasted and the legacy that they have left us with these diaries. I find it really romantic. I hope you love as much much as I do the precious insights that Natalia and Andrei give us into an ordinary marriage.

Kate Antonova: My book is mostly focused on the 1830s, which is a period I’ve always been interested in, because actually like the 1830s, kind of anywhere, it tends to be a period people don’t pay attention to there’s the 18th century, the age of revolutions, and then we talk about climbing into World War One and Russia revolution and all of that stuff. It gets left out in the middle is how we went from one to the other. I find that pretty important, but it doesn’t get enough attention. So yeah, in Russia, the period under Catherine the Great is kind of known as the golden age of serfdom, not in the sense of serfdom being good, but in a sense of being the height of serfdom and the height of the old regime society. So that means landholders with lots of serfs and dependent largely on sort of agriculture. Industrialisation is not a thing yet not in Russia in any way. It’s barely an idea anywhere else. And then when Catherine the Great dies and she’s succeeded by her son, Paul (who hated her for a variety of reasons – it’s a wonderful separate story) among other things, what he did was make aristocratic service to the state no longer compulsory. So under the old regime system, serfs serve their landlords but the landlord serves the state. And it’s a hierarchy and obviously very distinct hierarchy. But everyone is theoretically serving someone, theoretically, the sovereign serves God etc. So Paul kind of undid all of that without any good plan or replacement. So what happens if you have the aristocracy if they’re rich enough to not need an income if they own enough serfs, their land is valuable enough, they can just do nothing, which some do, but most actually will continue to serve in the government for the influence of it and those are the richest kinds of landlords. The less rich landlords, which are the people I focus on, are actually the majority of the aristocracy and really should properly be called Gentry because they’re not super wealthy, but they do own property and they own serfs. They are left with a dilemma because they’re no longer required to serve, but they need an income. And the government is no longer really putting a lot of effort into making sure land and services, enough income to ensure that they have the service class because that’s been done. And meanwhile, as we get into the 19th century industrialisation is at least a question. It didn’t really get started in Russia until the 1890s. But there’s a lot of pressure and questioning about when that should happen. what that would mean for the serf labor class, right? They become mobile, industrial labor that could start a revolution. Well, that’s what terrifies the Tsars. And so that’s why they put off industrialisation. From the point of view of middling property owning Gentry, would they have access to more wealth through industrialisation? Do they need to actually intensify the search process to hang on? Should they be putting their efforts into service and politics? Those are open questions and they haven’t been really very well studied yet. But for the people I’m looking at this one family the father of the family does serve in the army briefly largely because he does need to even though it’s no longer compulsory, he needs some income and he needs especially connections. Connections are really important to these kinds of people to getting a good marriage for their children and to having people to turn to when they’re in debt. There’s no safety net. So you need connections. So he goes and serves in the army, but he just missed serving in the Napoleonic Wars. That is the path to rising up into the, you know, higher ranks of the army and better regiments and so on. And that could lead to high ranking posts that could give you a real income, allow you to live in the capital cities, the possibilities for that dry up when the Napoleonic Wars end. So for my main character, Andrei Chikhachev, it was a great disappointment that he was not able to be a hero in the wars. And he ends up studying in a military school and then briefly joining the army after it’s all over, which is not really interesting. So he actually ends up teaching in a military academy, the same one where he studied for a couple of years and then going back to his estates to get married. So that’s what a lot of people end up doing at this time is they go back to their estates to get married. But for these middling people who don’t have a huge amount of wealth from their property, it means a struggle to manage the estates efficiently enough to get by and to hopefully set up their children to continue the same life. What happens to actually a lot of middle aged countries, they slip into poverty and so that’s the kind of struggle for these people. On the one hand they own serfs, hundreds of serfs which sounds like incredible wealth, right? But the actual incredible wealth in Russia were the people who own hundreds of thousands of serfs because the agricultural yields are so low in Russia. And because they actually owe quite a lot of responsibility to serfs to get enough profit to actually be wealthy – that actually required hundreds of thousands of serfs and huge numbers of properties as well. So these people in the middling category, have to manage estates, manage to maintain their serfs, but they’re also of course exploiting their serfs for labour. But all of that doesn’t balance out because the low agricultural yields into much wealth, and many of them are indebted, which my family was as well. So that’s their kind of struggle.

Painting depicting Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow (1920) | Credit:

Holly: That’s who we hear about those people who own hundreds of thousands of serfs. That’s who we are very aware of the Russian elite lots was written about them. They’re the ones in the novels.

Kate: Yes, that’s those people. They’re talking about in stories and we focus on them because it’s been difficult to get records from the middle gentry.

Holly: Yeah. So you mentioned that Andrei was in the military, but I understand that he had quite an unsettled early childhood.

Kate: Yes, he was an orphan. So his mother died very early and his father died. I think he was about 10 sometime later, but still during his childhood, but after his mother’s death when he was I think just a toddler he was given to his aunt to raise so he was actually raised by an uncle with cousins who he remained close to for the rest of his life. But he also had an older brother, who turned out to be a wastrel. He was considerably older, he theoretically would have inherited the major part of the estate, but he was a gambler, and the word wastrel could cover a lot of things. Exactly all of what that was, but he ended up grossly in debt and then died relatively young. So Andrei ended up inheriting not just part of the property through his father directly and then what was left of his brother’s property, but he also inherited debts from his older brother. So his estates, when he finally inherited them, he ended up being the only heir eventually but they were deeply, deeply indebted by the time he got control of them. So he was not a great marriage prospect to be honest.

Holly: No, so I find it quite remarkable that Natalia married him because she had quite a stable childhood, didn’t she?

Kate: Yes, exactly. She grew up in a similar area. And we don’t know for sure, but she and Andreis family, including the family who grew up with his aunt and uncle, must have all known each other. But her background is very different. She had a large family – a large, stable family and roughly comparable estates in terms of how much they owned but with no debt, so they were in relatively good shape financially for kind of middling income people. And well, her marriage prospects would not have been extraordinary. She couldn’t have gone to, you know, Petersburg balls like a Pushkin novel and meet some Tsar, that was not going to be her future. Her prospects were within this provincial world that she inhabited, but she came with a good dowry. She came with good management skills, housekeeping skills, all of the things that a young lady should have at the time. They were about the same age when they married, they were only about a year apart. So we don’t know exactly why they married each other. But I think one of the major factors probably was that Andrei was very good friends with Natalia’s brother. And there are some references that suggest that that friendship might have been first, and then he married Natalia later that it would have been his best friend’s sister, basically. So I suspect that’s a major factor. And also, I mean, I think we have to assume they fell in love on some level – that wasn’t just a marriage of convenience that it wasn’t that they were neighbouring estates because she could have had better prospects. I think that alone suggests that there was some element of love. Now, Andrei had an extraordinary personality. That’s very clear from all of his writings, and his friendship with Natalia’s brother, I think would have meant that he was trusted as an individual that he wouldn’t end up being a wastrel so that even though his estates were indebted that he himself at least was a good man and her family would have known that so, you know, other prospects that were less known might have been riskier in some ways. So there were calculators involved, certainly there would have been in any marriage of people of that class at the time. But I think we have to assume that they knew each other quite well, before they married and that there was affection at the bottom of it. There had to be.

Holly: Well, that is lovely to think about. So they got married in September of 1820. And if we start to look at their marriage, the first decade was quite difficult.

Kate: Yes, the hardest period of either of their lives, arguably, even for Andrei, who had a very difficult childhood, that period from 1820 to 1830, was incredibly difficult. And one of the most notable things is they didn’t write diaries from that time, or at least they didn’t survive. So they may have written them and burned them later, because it was so difficult, which is very possible, or they may not have been up to writing the way they did in later years. But the letters that survived and there are a few key letters from this period that they kept because it did note these things and then some of the other events they mentioned later, but over this 10 year period, Natalia basically lost almost her whole family, everyone but her brother who was Andrei’s best friend. Her parents, one after the other, and then there was a terrible boating accident. Her brothers were all naval officers. Her father had been a naval officer as well. And her brothers returned from naval service where they went away around the world on big ships, they came back and died in a local boating accident.

Kate: Yes, deeply bizarre. And there was an incredibly touching letter. It was this torn piece of very old stained paper, it could have been tear stained, I don’t know for sure, but definitely stained. And the handwriting was just clearly someone very upset. And it was from other writing to inform someone about the boating accident. And you could just see the horror that was in that document and the way that it was saved, you know, partially torn. I don’t know what part of it might have been torn out, but that this was a devastating event. They went from a stable family with three sons, all naval officers, which would have ensured the kinds of connections that ensured generations of stability basically, and they lost two of them and then the parents one after the other, and the father died first – Natalia’s father died of natural causes. And then her mother was a widow for a while and then there was, in addition, a period of serf unrest on their estates, which from the point of view of the serfs, I can, you know, without having their voices I can very much take their side. From the point of view of the family, where we have to put ourselves very uncomfortable in the shoes of people who owned serfs and whose income was based off of exploiting serf labor, the mother was left as a widow and it may have been that the serfs saw this as an opportunity to renegotiate, shall we say? And what they were actually doing was they were destroying parts of the forest that were owned by Natalia’s family. The forest was a tremendous resource for landowning families because you got honey and furs as well as lumber from the forest. And the forest, generally, they would be owned by a landlord, but that used in common by all the peasants that that landlord owned, but whatever was exported or sold at market from the goods of that forest would be a crucial part of the income of the family, the noble family that owned it. So serfs were essentially attacking the family by destroying parts of the forest, it seems from the references, we have got, that the reason they were doing this is as they went the better deal for how much they got out of that forest and may have been trying to take advantage of Natalie’s mother. As it turns out, what happens is that Andrei steps in to handle this for her. And that’s why we have records of it. And he ultimately rounds up what he thinks are the instigators and gets them sent to Siberia.

Holly: A very classic Russian response.

Kate: Exactly, exactly. And it’s very awkward reading to read those documents because on the one hand, they were a newly married young couple trying to set themselves up and he is forced to just handle his in-laws’ entire family affairs because they went from the stable, prosperous family to total chaos and the prospect of losing everything very quickly. And at this point in time, by the way, Natalia is surviving brother Jacob is away with the Navy at that point. So he’s not present. That’s when Andrei steps in so he’s trying to save his wife’s family that’s very touching. On the other hand, he’s cruelly exploiting the serfs so he’s simply could have negotiated with privately. He decides it’s a few troublemakers and that everybody else is fine and so he gets rid of the troublemakers and that does seem to put an end to the problems so maybe he read the situation in its context of the time more or less accurately. But there are many contradictions to the kind of life these people lead.

Holly: And they moved to Moscow for a little bit as well, didn’t they? That was more for Andrei’s side of the family in terms of inheritance.

Kate: Yes, yes. And that’s an interesting thing, because moving to the cities was, I mean, if you read the novels of Chekhov, which are set at a later time, the late 19th century, that’s what everyone wanted to do, right? And most of these provincial people couldn’t afford it. So initially, when I was coming at this where much of what we know about provincial nobility is from literature, I’m going ‘Wait, how did they afford to go to Moscow? What?’ and what it turns out is the reason they go is to deal with a lawsuit and lawsuits like lawsuits in the US today go on for years, and this was not particular to Russia. But it was a thing that lawsuits go on, especially family disputes over property. They would get as ugly as they do today and take many years to sort out. So Andrei had the prospect of inheriting some property which would have been very helpful in their circumstances, especially with Natalia’s family in such difficulties, but that property was encumbered and being fought over by other relatives. So he had to go to Moscow to oversee the legal case and to be present to sign papers and write testimonies and so on over a long period. And the way they could afford that, actually, number one, they were young married, and they didn’t have children yet, so they didn’t really have other responsibilities, but they went to Moscow and stayed with friends and relatives. So it’s not like they set themselves up in a big house with a ballroom and that kind of nobility in Moscow kind of thing. They were actually living in a very modest part of the city on the outskirts and living with family and friends.

Holly: And so he didn’t inherit it?

Kate: No. They spent years fighting with this and money to live in Moscow during that time and ultimately didn’t really get anything out of it. There much later seems to have been a small settlement where basically he didn’t get anything. So yes, they spent all of these years and then also during that period from 1828 to 30, I presume, although again, the references are not directed that Natalia was having some miscarriages – a long series of reproductive difficulties throughout most of her life actually. It may have been eventually what killed her but their first 10 years of marriage involved trying to have children mostly not successfully fighting over lawsuits and property and trying to deal with the in laws, tremendous round of burdens that I think interestingly looking back today sounds pretty familiar.

Holly: Yeah, it’s a remarkable decade that they pushed through in that first bit of marriage, which is hard in itself.

Kate: Yes. And then what brings them back to the provinces actually is an epidemic ironically enough of cholera, that hit Russia in 1830 to 1831. And Andrei, this is really, I think, a huge change in their lives between the kind of young crisis years of that first decade where they just must have been managing day by day through unbearable stress, and then 1830 he comes back to his estates and is invited to be a provincial inspector for cholera. So his job was to go household, the household and make sure people were following rules for what we now call social distancing – looking at who is sick and who wasn’t and to keep records, which is a dangerous thing to be doing, putting yourself in danger. He did that very successfully. He was really good at it. And it gave him a certain amount of status in the province. It introduced him to everyone in the province. And that it’s the beginning of what will be the rest of his life, which is to be an important man in his region. And it’s an important part of his self identity from there on. That’s also the point where they settled back in the provinces the lawsuit, they just put it behind them at that point with bitterness, references to the law for the rest of his life, but they end up at home. And then of course, they have two living children in 1820 and 1825. So they find they’re able to have two children who will live into adulthood – Alexei and Alexandra – so that begins another decade of raising children.

Holly: And so they settle into what we would think considering the cliches of the time were quite unusual settings within the domestic sphere, but actually we suggest that maybe they are a really good symbol of what was actually quite normal?

Kate: Yes, for the time and the place. And that’s why the title of the book is An Ordinary Marriage – and I have to thank my publisher, my editor came up with that title. It is on the one hand, these are ordinary people. And part of what I like about it is unlike every romance ever written, we don’t know about their courtship very much, but it begins with marriage and follows everything afterwards. But I love that glimpse into ordinary life. But the other part of the title is the argument actually, is that their marriage was ordinary, even though from 1830 until their children are grown, at least in many ways beyond that, Natalia’s job is the financial management of their estates, getting them gradually out of debt and the material management of the whole family making sure everyone has what they need materially, Andrei’s job is to raise the children, both intellectually and morally. He takes on responsibility for those aspects of their rearing, and they also have wet nurses when they’re babies and then nannies later so Natalia’s job towards our children was really pretty strictly material support, making sure they’re clothed and fed. Andrei is the one who spends time with them, plays games with them, invents games for them, oversees their education, all of that. And that, of course, seems odd to us when we first hear that particularly for the 19th century.

Holly: Yeah, the Western pervasive idea is that angel in the house.

A symbol of domesticity at the time of the angel in the house | ‘Windsor Castle in Modern Times’: Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, with His Favourite Greyhound, ‘Eos’, and Terrier, ‘Dandit’, and Victoria, the Princess Royal | Edwin Henry Landseer ©National Trust

Kate: Exactly. The domesticity, the angel in the house, which of course, is an image and a sort of pressure for what a family should look like that really emerges in England in the 1830s. But is overwhelmingly present in the advice books, but also the literature. You know, artistic literature is everywhere in the printed word in Europe in the 1830s, including in Russia, and there have been studies of the periodical press in Russia that showed domesticity as an idea to be just ever present. And I know Andrei and Natalia were reading all of that. So that was what first interested me about them is they were certainly totally aware of this sort of ideal family model of the woman in the kitchen with the children and the angel of the house and the man outside working. But the reason that image arises in the West in the 1830s is it’s about the rise of industrialisation which separates the workplace from the home. And it’s the rise of suburbs because industrialisation is put work out in the factories. And so middle upper middle class or lower Gentry families, the man’s job is to oversee some business or property somewhere else. So the home becomes separate and that’s when the woman becomes the angel of the house. So there’s a couple of things. Number one is even in the West, that was a model and an ideal that you were supposed to live up to. But the thing is when people write something in advice books, it means people weren’t actually doing it. They wouldn’t have needed that advice if they were already living that way. So we know even in, you know, quintessential England and all the other Western European cases that in fact, it was more complicated in real families, but in particular, in Russia, the workplace is not separated for the middling Gentry. So the fundamental structural and economic reasons for that model didn’t exist. And so the question is not so much, why it wasn’t practical for them to live the way that that model suggests, but how they could read so much about it, and be living in a completely different way. What was fascinating to me reading their diaries and their letters and so on was that they wrote constantly, for example, about novels they read, they read Jane Austen, for example, they would read these novels and newspapers that had a lot of translations from British newspapers, for example. And they wouldn’t say, ‘wow, these British people are so weird. We don’t live like that’ You know, nothing along those lines, they think this is normal. In fact, both seem to approve of the domestic model and to use its language sometimes while living what seems like the opposite. And so the conclusion that I come to and there’s another book by Michelle Morrissey, about property ownership in Russia that does the sort of representativeness part of this and about how normal this was, but that because the estates that they lived in and worked that was their income, which are agricultural estates, with serf labour, because the nature of inheritance in Russia was that when a mother and father die, for example, their property would be split among all of their children, including the female children – rather than primogeniture in England where almost all of it goes to the oldest son, right? So that meant estates over time got all broken up into little pieces, so that property ownership was a bunch of parts of villages or tiny villages here and there. And you would have various estates that are somewhat separated geographically and are a problem to manage, because they’re somewhat, you know, scattered and all of that. So that the nature of the home, on the one hand, it’s one place. It’s not like there are men who are off being lawyers or doctors or running factories, because those were not gentrymen’s positions, but also the home itself. There’s a house, of course, and there’s the estates that support the household, but there’s also the villages where the serfs live, who do the labour on that household. And then there’s outlying villages. There’s these kinds of layers to: how do you define the home? It’s certainly beyond the house, which is how the home is generally defined in the western model anyway, even though it wasn’t always real. For Russian Gentry estate owners, when they’re thinking of the house, they’re really thinking of their estates that are this complicated economic venture that was actually not usually particularly prosperous and was a management problem. So the woman’s place was in the home in their minds, but that meant Natalia, his job was to manage these scattered estates that are really a labour management and financial management job. That’s exactly what she did.

Holly: And she was quite good at it wasn’t she?

Kate: And she’s wonderful at it! She does get them out of debt, which is absolutely extraordinary in 10 years, and that’s actually quite rare. It was not rare to be in debt, it was really rare to get out of debt through their own work, and Natalia did that. And honestly, if they had switched jobs, it would have been a disaster because Andrei would have been terrible at that. And similarly, I think Natalia would have been pretty awful actually, at raising the children. And we can maybe get into that if you want to?

Holly: Yeah, I would like to discuss both of their approaches to parenting. That’s very interesting here within their marriage, which does revolve that this decade around the children.

Kate: Exactly, yeah, it revolves on the children. It’s clear in both of their diaries that they’re both deeply attached to their children and deeply concerned about their family and that like many married couples in that 10 years of primary child caring, that’s their whole world. You know, it’s very difficult to think about anything else, and it’s very overwhelming. And it’s a lot. I’m in that stage myself. But their approach and the way they handle that kind of stress and attachment is very different. So Natalia obsesses about making sure that children have what they need in terms of clothing, she actually sews for them and makes lace for her daughter’s dress and things like that. But it’s not just that she’s maintaining a vast economic enterprise that produces textiles, for sale at a market, and that’s a big part of their income. Part of that is clothing, their children, but she’s also clothing their serfs at the same time, that’s part of her responsibility and selling for market. And so her attention is on that enterprise. And that includes both her primary parenting role and all of the rest of it. So on the one hand, she’s obsessed with the economics of it and managing well and then she works herself to the bone to do that. She works incredibly hard. But you can see when she’s talking about her children, what the primary references in our diaries are about what they need for clothing. It’s not just a sort of, you know, ‘well, what do they need this year? I should get an extra pair of pants’ whatever casual. It’s almost obsessive. She’s putting all of her care and worries into the clothes. And she obsesses about it to that degree, but you don’t see the references to you know, what are the kids saying? What are their feelings? All of that stuff is Andrei’s diaries. But the other thing you see in Natalia’s diaries is constant references to her health because she was experiencing pain that was, I believe, related to reproductive issues – something like a prolapsed uterus or something – and a lot of miscarriages. An infant that died in its first year, and that was in this 10 year period. And that was clearly traumatizing for them. She’s going through pregnancies and miscarriages and chronic pain related to all of that, which undoubtedly had to also be emotional, but she doesn’t write about her emotions in the diary. So she sort of channels all of that into work. And that’s what then comes to the diaries, but you can sort of see the forcefulness of it and the only time there’s anything emotional at all in any of her diaries is about her son, when he’s about to go off to Moscow for schooling and she cries for days. And in between the crying she’s obsessing about what he needs to pack.

Holly: I mean, it would be a shame to break from regime at that point.

Kate: Exactly. I think that proves my theory that she’s channelling all of her feelings into the clothes because she literally and the only part where there are any clear explicit feelings, it’s like ‘I cried all day, how many stockings do I still need to make?’ Like all in one sentence. And then you contrast that to Andrei and his diaries in this period, which are very extensive, are constantly about what the children are saying, what the children are doing, cute little references, he uses nicknames for them. He’s constantly planning games for them. He’s constantly thinking about what they need for their proper development. And he’s reading about education and all the latest ideas about education from the west, he’s putting tremendous energy into giving them the best start in life that he can. And for him that is partly intellectual, partly moral and religious and also nurturing and loving. The part that we expect to be the kind of feminine duty because the Western model of nurturing and caring that we very much today even in Western society associate with femininity, for this family that was Andrei’s job. And so my argument is that partly they fell into this because this is what Andrei’s natural disposition was and Natalia was clearly just a born manager. And I think they took advantage of their skills which is really interesting and touching about their marriage. But at the same time, we know that in a larger sense, this was not unusual. And that is because Russian gentrymen, to go back to that to sort of what their options were, because they were no longer required to serve the state. That’s not something they need to do anymore. There’s no voting or democratic politics in Russia, because they don’t have that and industrialization hasn’t begun. So there’s very little prospect for starting an enterprise, for example, that happens more and more after the emancipation of serfs in the second half of the 19th century. And even at this period, there were very few super rich nobles who invest in enterprises, but you had to have a lot of capital for that. It was very complicated in this earlier period, so people like Andrei couldn’t do that. At this point, the Russian universities, they’re very small in number and they’re not producing many graduates. That’s gradually beginning to change at this time. But for a man of Andrei’s generation, he wasn’t going to be able to become a doctor or an engineer. Those were not options for him and his education. So what was he going to do? What was left for Russian Gentry men is to be a moral leader and an intellectual leader.

Natalia and Andrei’s house | © Katherine Pickering Antonova 2012

Holly: So it’s kind of this sphere separated from the estate and his role is to be within this cultural sphere.

Kate: Yeah, it’s beyond the home and so they could read all that stuff about domesticity and say, well, Natalia’s in charge of the home and Andrei is working beyond the home. Because the intellectual sphere is bigger and more important and therefore masculine, of course, and it is beyond the home. And he literally writes that ‘yes, he sits in a study all day but he could be called away at any moment.’ And also the work of the mind is elevated and important to the world, not just to the everyday functioning of the family. So they’re actually in their own minds following the western model quite closely. And there are sort of practical circumstances that just the everyday reality looks unfamiliar, but that it fits those categories in their minds.

Holly: So how does he express himself within this cultural sphere? I heard he worked in a journalistic role at one point.

Kate: Yes, he does eventually. It starts about 1830, which is his first diary, which is almost entirely a child care diary. It’s constantly about his children that grows as the children get older. And all parents understand this, once the children start to go to school and the caregiver at home starts to have a little bit more time, what he was doing is he was taking the skills he had learned and applied so well to his children and thinking, well, where else can I apply this? And he had been reading other people’s advice about education and upbringing and he had some opinions about some of the stuff that he read. So he starts to write to the newspaper that eventually gets him his own column in the local newspaper. That gives him the confidence to start submitting to higher profile newspapers. So he spends much of the rest of his life writing for newspapers largely for provincial audiences but occasionally breaks beyond. And then he gradually again, as the kids get older starts to get involved in charity projects, he becomes very involved in local efforts that are all related to education to found the first library in the province. He’s part of an agricultural society that works on issues like how to teach serfs practical skills, they realise that emancipation is probably on the horizon. And so they’re thinking through what that transition would look like for them out in the provinces. He’s deeply involved in those discussions. And his concern is primarily how to educate everyone, that the Gentry around him should be better educated to be better managers, that serfs need more skills, they need literacy. He taught his serfs to read when that was frowned on by many landowners. He was doing that from the very beginning. So he himself said that he had always wanted a better education for himself. And so he worked to give that to his children. And then having done that, he’s like, ‘well, I’ve got some skills now’ and he tries to sort of pass them on to everyone else he can find.

Holly: That’s really interesting because I know during the revolution, they use a lot of iconography around reading as an idea of liberating the serfs. So the idea that he was preparing them much earlier for life with these skills shows his obsession with that cultural sphere.

Kate: Yeah, I mean, in many ways, his whole political worldview was that education was the future of everything. He’s kind of a man of the Enlightenment in that sense. And even though he’s living well past that sort of height of the Enlightenment period for many high profile thinkers, as you get to the 1830s 1840s, they’re moving to other places. Andrei’s still kind of in that enlightenment place, if it just if everybody had more education, we could solve all of our problems. And so his view on the emancipation of the serfs, for example, on the various social political issues in Russia, he is ultimately very conservative in the sense that he’s incredibly admiring of the monarchy and he’s just got this sort of knee jerk loyalty to it. He does recognize problems he does recognize that serfdom is unsustainable. He doesn’t address the moral aspect of that directly, but he clearly recognises that it’s unsustainable and it’s not necessarily healthy for all the parties involved. And his answer to that, rather than the kind of emancipation that eventually comes or radical restructuring that revolutionaries will want – his answer is to gradually educate everyone so that everyone is capable of better, more forward looking roles. That the serfs would have greater skills and could be doing different things, and that the Gentry also should have more skills and be able to do things like starting factories and so on. His real concern was that the countryside would be destroyed by industrialisation. He’s a big believer in the countryside, and he thinks it’s morally better as well as healthier and all kinds of other things. Yeah, he wants industrialisation, if it happens to be kind of gradual, and to not disrupt the village life and that’s partly he really does have a real concern about the well being of serfs, because he knows that part of his job because he lives so closely with serfs, unlike the the wealthier landlords is to protect them in case of fires and thieves and natural disaster type things as part of his responsibilities. He actually takes it very seriously. And in fact, he’s right when emancipation comes, it removes the layer of direct exploitation from landlords, but it also removes the protection from local disasters and the obligation that landlords had which, you know, not all of them were as conscientious as the Chikhachevs, of course. But for those villages that were lucky, they lose that with emancipation. That was exactly what Andrei had hoped to avoid. And his whole notions about education were that everybody basically needed to be enlightened enough to consider these problems in a rational and clear way and try to manage this in a way that did least harm.

Simakov, Da zdravstvuet solntse! Da skroetsya t’ma! (Long Live the Sun! May the Darkness be Hidden!), three coloured lithograph, 1921, 49吹 cm., BS. In The Bolshevik Poster by Stephen White (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988), 37.

Holly: It’s a real testament to their relationship that they were both given these spaces in which they flourished. Did it work for them, like as a couple?

Kate: I think it’s a question I asked myself a lot as I was reading the documents, and I’m writing it up in a book: how successful was this marriage? Because they go through so much pain, they both I think had very difficult lives, the tremendous losses and the grief of losing loved ones was just overwhelming for both of them and that really sticks out particularly as they get older and their reflecting back on their lives. That’s what leapt out for both of them. But that said, I think the marriage is what held them together through that. And in fact, the worst crisis of all and well first, Natalia, his last brother dies, it’s very difficult for them both because they were both so close to him. Their whole family, their children were very close to him. They handle that grief is a family and get through it. And then their daughter in her adulthood, she reaches adulthood, but then she dies in childbirth, tragically, and that’s probably the worst blow of all, from the way they both write about it is absolutely the worst blow and it’s partly because it comes upon so many other losses. At that point, Andrei has this huge crisis where he considers becoming a monk and removing to a monastery. He just can’t take it anymore. And he wants to run away from the world. And what stops him from doing that is Natalia. Natalia says, ‘No, we need you. Your family needs you.’ And I found it incredibly touching because in many ways, she did everything and after the children were grown, it’s kind of arguable that he gave any practical contribution to the family. She was really handling everything and he was writing articles after the children were grown at least. But what was clear in that and we have the letter that what she meant was that they loved him. They needed him not because of a practical contribution. For that to be coming from Natalia especially, I found deeply touching. And that’s what pulls him back to the world and forces him to live with the pain of living with a family and risking future losses again.

Holly: Yeah, I mean, from a woman who is so seemingly practical to have that awareness of the key emotional role he plays in the family.

Kate : Yes, and that she doesn’t express affection well. She expresses it by giving people stuff they need, by sending Andrei off shopping with an allowance. That’s sort of her way.

Holly: That’s her love language.

Kate: Yes, exactly. By knitting stockings for them, you know that’s how she’s expressed affection their whole lives and for example, there’s one moment that I love too which is earlier when Andrei is struggling to try to write a novel which goes very badly. He’s not a good novel writer. It’s absolutely terrible and he gives it up after a chapter. But she’s a little bit frustrated. There’s one moment where she really expresses frustration that he’s always off writing when she’s, you know, really working herself to the bone. And she ends that comment with ‘well let him write.’ And that to me, too, is incredibly affectionate. That’s ultimately saying, ‘This is who he is, and he has to be who he is.’ And she’s accepting that but clearly with affection that has to be there. And I think that when she calls him back from the monastery, that’s what she’s drawing on. And she doesn’t say directly ‘We love you too much.’ She says, ‘We need you.’ But that’s her way of saying it. And I think he knows her love language just as she understands his. And that ultimately, is the clearest evidence of what their relationship really was at the core.

Holly: They really build a life together and work towards it. And I think there’s a lot to be said about those incredibly intense love stories that they whisk you away in the romance of it all, but really the great ones, the ones that endure and can withstand all of this trauma that they go through.

Kate: I mean, I think this is why it’s a little ambiguous. There’s not exactly a happy ending, in a sense that it sort of all led up to something. They simply go through a life, a very ordinary life with a lot of the ordinary struggles for the time and they get through it together. And that’s that. There’s no kind of triumphant ending. And in fact, the tragedies just keep coming. And Natalia’s death 10 years before Andrei is a tragedy for him. And so he has to survive that as well. And interestingly, he doesn’t write nearly as much, certainly not the private writing after that, and it may have been partly his eyesight going but it’s as if his private writing was about their family life. And when she’s gone to a certain degree that’s over. Again, I find this touching because all of the diary writing, they were obsessive about writing so much which is why we know so much about them. It was from the period of 1830 when they have live children, and they’re settled down together and they’re living very close, family unit and it continues until Natalia’s death. And that suggests to me that with all that obsessive writing and hard work was about their family unit and their devotion to that family unit. Outside events keep coming in, there are deaths and then the emancipation of the serfs hurts them economically in a big way and changes their children’s lives and so on. There’s nothing they could do about any of that. But they retained those family bonds through all of it. They raised children loving children who adore them and they adore their children and, and that’s what they have. And I think, given how much is really out of our control in life, I find that admirable.

The house in summer | © Katherine Pickering Antonova 2012

Holly: It really is. So Natalia dies in 1866, does she just die of illness or the sheer level of work that she’s gone through over the past 30 years?

Kate: I think the hard work contributed. What they say when Andrei notes it down, he notes about her death and it’s very touching he calls her his little treasure box – which sounds cuter in russian!

Holly: No it’s very sweet, I mean a little sickly but very sweet.

Kate: It’s sweet yeah. But the way he describes it, he said it was at the end of a long illness but there’s a suggestion in the way he words it that it was reproductive related. And so, there’s no way of knowing exactly what that might have been. Even if she’d suffered, it seems to explain the kind of pains she had for much of her life – something like a prolapse uterus – that wouldn’t necessarily lead to death. And at the point that she dies, she’s 67 I think. That’s a good long life at the time, particularly for a woman who’s had so many children. So, it’s not really unexpected or unusual, what’s odd is that it’s referred to as something reproductive. That might have just been their guess, particularly because she’d had so much pain for some time. But it’s not like she could be pregnant she was 67 – so it’s nothing like that.

Holly: That train had gone a long time ago!

Kate: Exactly. It might have been uterine cancer or something like that. They didn’t necessarily understand very well but they knew where the pain was, something along those lines probably which may, who knows, be related to what was happening earlier. But she also really worked herself to death for that long life and complained of illness almost constantly for much of that time. So it is hard to say.

Holly: A level of sheer exhaustion I’m sure just through everything as well.

Kate: Yeah absolutely just sheer exhaustion. And it’s very touching because endless diary entries where Andrei will be writing to her brother at the other estate where they correspond almost daily and he’d be saying ‘sorry Natalia can’t write she’s busy’, ‘sorry Natalia can’t write she’s busy.’ And then she’ll write a quick flying note that’s like half about the harvest and then she’ll say ‘sorry I’ve got to go work.’ She’s just constantly busy. Her own diaries are mostly a work record and on the one hand she seems to have been working way to hard and on the other hand she seems to have been very self-driven and again, looking at it through modern eyes, she was in a situation where she had to do this. It was a situation where she was expected to do this and she would have been looked down on for not holding up her end if she hadn’t done it. But, reading between the lines, I suspect that she got a certain satisfaction. And there are passages that I quote in the book where I think she’s showing satisfaction in work well done. That she, I wouldn’t say, enjoyed working herself to death but she got a certain what I would now call professional satisfaction at being good at it. And that is beautiful to see in the 19th Century for a woman even though there’s so many ways that this is just another version of the woman taking the less important job for less credit. That’s certainly the case. But she did find personal satisfaction in it and she was the one that saved this family and kept them together and Andrei respected that and gave her the credit for that which is something for the 19th Century.

Holly: No it really is. It’s a level of respect and equal living that is unique to at least what we think life was like and I think that’s the beauty of this documentation of this relationship is that we are able to see a different type of relationship that eases our expectations of what we think is a traditional marriage.

Kate: Yeah. The main value for it outside just Russian historians, you know, wanting to know more about the middling gentry, is just expanding our notions of what marriage and family could look like in any time and place. What they were doing was not considered strange by their family, there were certainly other families like this. It’s not exactly the typical family arrangement but it was not breaking norms right? It didn’t cause alarm for any of them or their family and that traditional marriage so called could mean a lot of things and took a lot of forms. That’s what history can teach us about most things and I think the main value of history is to look at the breadth and depth of the world as it was actually lived.

Holly: And so I guess that is their happy ending. They have a legacy that they left that we are now able to go over and see value in.

Kate: Yeah. In fact, one of my favourite bits in all of the papers was written by Natalia’s brother Jacob. He was just kind of noodling around in his notebook and he was writing out there’s a big village feast day where they have a big meal for the serfs on a holiday that was just a kind of local thing. He was writing out the dates that it would fall on and he wrote it all the way up to the 1980s – I think it was 1985 was the last year he wrote it up to – and he wrote some kind of note like what it would be like for people at that time to be reading these papers. And he’s writing this and Andrei respondes ‘maybe we’ll be rich.’ And I’m reading it going, ‘well nobody’s going to be getting rich over this.’ And they never could never in a million years have imagined what happened between the 1830s and the 1980s. I mean wow, in Russia in particular, if I could go back in time and tell them I’d probably give them both heart attacks. But, also, the thought was in their heads. They were leaving a legacy for generations – they assumed for generations of their own family.

Holly: But the house that Andrei and Natalia built in 1835 that still stands doesn’t it?

Kate: Yes it still stands and you can actually buy it. Last time I checked it was for sale and I’m a little tempted to be honest.

Holly: I looked at the pictures, it’s gorgeous. It needs a little work…

Kate: It needs a lot of work. It essentially needs to be rebuilt which is why it can be bought for a few thousand dollars. It’s really cheap but for a reason.

Holly: Well I just love the idea that the home they built, that there’s some tangible evidence of that relationship.

Rear facade of house, showing balcony | © Katherine Pickering Antonova 2012

Kate: Yes you can see there’s a balcony at the back and Andrei writes standing on that balcony watching his children play below. That’s when he calls them ‘chikhachati’ which is this sweet nickname, the little ‘chikhachati’ and to stand there looking at that balcony a hundred and so years later is pretty amazing.

Holly: Yes it’s incredible. I mean, they were an ordinary couple but quite incredible in what they give us today and I am so grateful that you have gone and found this story.

Kate: Absolutely, absolutely. And you know that life happens and struggles happen and there’s still attachment behind it that helps us all get through it and that I find comforting.

Holly: It is. Those family bonds showing to be the most important part of their lives which was really their wealth at the end of the day.

Holly: Well, thank you so much for talking to me. I have enjoyed this immensely.

Kate: Ah thank you so much for having me I’ve been wanting someone to ask about this since I first read these diaries.

Holly: Well I’m so pleased I was the one.

Kate: I can talk about the historiographical contribution. I’ve done that a lot but it’s really loving to talk about the human aspects of it.

Chapter 3 - History as evolution ☆

In this chapter, I consider the benefits of viewing history through an evolutionary lens. In recent decades, a field of research has emerged, which builds on foundations from biological evolution to study culture within an evolutionary framework. I begin the chapter by discussing the theory behind cultural evolution and the empirical evidence supporting its ability to explain the history of human societies. I then turn to a discussion of how an evolutionary perspective provides important insights into a range of phenomena within economics, including a deeper understanding of human capital, innovation, gender roles, the consequences of warfare, the effects of market competition, why we observe historical persistence and path dependence, and, most importantly, why sustained economic growth is often so elusive. I end by turning to a summary of a growing body of research within economics that has made progress in improving our understanding of cultural evolution and, thus, contributing to evolutionary disciplines outside of economics.

Further Reading:

Doggett, Maeve E. Coverture, the Fiction of Marital Unity and the Status of Wives: Legal Responses to Wife Assault in Nineteenth-Century England in Context. Ottawa: National Library of Canada, 1989.

Hardwick, Julie. The Practice of Patriarchy: Gender and the Politics of Household Authority in Early Modern France. University Park (PA): Pennsylvania University Press, 1998.

Herrup, Cynthia B. Crimes Most Dishonorable: Sex, Law, and the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Mendelson, Sara Heller, and Patricia Crawford. Women in Early Modern England, 1550-1720. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2003.

Stretton, Tim, and K. J. Kesselring. Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the Common Law World . Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2013.

Wilson, Adrian. Ritual and Conflict: The Social Relations of Childbirth in Early Modern England . London: Routledge, 2016.


  1. Shadwell

    Nice phrase

  2. Bednar

    Bravo, I think this is the brilliant idea

  3. Wattson

    I am final, I am sorry, but it is all does not approach. There are other variants?

  4. Zadok

    Please, more detail

  5. Cyril

    This is the simply excellent idea

  6. Hristun

    And I have faced it. We can communicate on this theme.

Write a message