Courtship in america dating in the 20th century

Defying parental prohibitions, youths occasionally caught the quickest ride to their connubial destination.

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Today, love is popularly considered the reason for a marriage, but for the best part of 150 years, colonial marriages among the gentry were arranged in the same way that they are still agreed upon in parts of the world.

The higher up the colonial ladder of success and status, the greater was the pressure for the children to marry well.

The woman's father was expected to provide a dowry.

The well-heeled were aware that there were scurrilous and ruthless fortune hunters looking to ensnare wealthy heiresses. For some couples there was heartbreak; for others, resignation.

And for a couple determined to buck tradition and marry without the blessing and support of their families, it was a choice between love and money. Since the Middle Ages, it had been accepted in England that a couple could have a common law—in effect, a do-it-yourself—marriage arrangement, and as immigrants flowed into the New World, they brought the custom along.

For the lower end of the social scale, property was not such a problem. The arrangement was a spoken marriage contract—in Latin verba de praesenti—taken alone or before witnesses.

Ben and Ellen Knecht exchange vows—with, from left, John Labanish, Pamela Blount, Andre Lane, Mike Luzzi, Teresa Ponziani, Jim Kent, Pat Mahon, and Christina Lane. Not a few parents pine for the courtship rules and rites of, let us say, those halcyon colonial times, when, as they understand it, propriety tempered ardor, virtue checked passion, and abstinence made the heart grow fonder.

Many a modern mother and father brood about the matches their sons and daughters will make. "Distance," as Thomas Campbell wrote in 1799, "lends enchantment," and two centuries later, for many worry-ridden parents, the perfect courtship model follows in the footsteps of Jane Austen's smoldering Mr.

Sometimes these affairs ended happily, sometimes not.

For young girls, it was prudent to hide a couple of friends in the closet to secretly witness the pledges and forestall backsliding.

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