Friday, June 6, 2014

How Did 19th Century Pioneer Ladies Say "I Do"?

What is it about June and weddings? Once held to be the luckiest month in which to marry, it’s still one of the most popular times here in the U.S., with the best venues, caterers, and photographers booked more than a year in advance.  And of course weddings are so romantic, the joy of a couple pledging their lives to each other.  Sigh.

I’ve written about more than one wedding in my twenty-seven published stories set in early nineteenth century England, from grander affairs in a church to eloping to Gretna Green and being married by a so-called “anvil priest,” otherwise known as a blacksmith. The service in the Book of Common Prayer, the manual for the Church of England, is relatively easy to find online for the time period. Very helpful authors and researchers can provide detail on the wedding breakfast or the wedding gown, as in the lovely post this week by author Katherine Givens.   

But now I’m writing about a wedding ceremony in pioneer Seattle, 1866 to be exact.  And the details are sketchy to say the least.

Certainly the East Coast magazines were full of advice to new brides.  I can find pictures from Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine that look not too different from what we’d expect--yards of white satin with lace trimmings, embroidered bodices, long sheer lace veils that flow from the head to past the hips, orange blossoms in the hair.  Godey’s even advises what to include in the trousseau:  six trimmed cambric petticoats, four morning wrappers (two cambric, two of wool in a neutral color), plain handkerchiefs embroidered with your initials, a neutral-colored traveling dress finished with heavy silk cord with matching cloak and bonnet, and three silk dresses for morning calls. I can hear my brave pioneer ladies laughing now.

So, how did a lady say “I do” in the early days of Washington Territory?  There were two churches in 1866 Seattle, called the brown church and the white church because of the colors they were painted rather than using grander names that signified their denominations. They each had an officiating minister, but the ministers were known for traveling other places to marry folks. There’s an account of the Reverend Daniel Bagley marrying one young couple in his study. At least one pioneer lady recalled marrying in the Occidental Hotel. Vows appear to be a mere “I do” responding to the minister’s list of duties for husband and wife. 
 Of course, even that can be quite romantic, with the right gentleman at your side!


Lynn Lovegreen said...

The Pioneer weddings sound more like the ones I find in Alaska history. Not as elaborate as the other ones you describe, but just as meaningful to the brides! :-)

Regina Scott said...

I bet Alaskan pioneer weddings were very similar to the ones in early Seattle, Lynn. And yes, her wedding day is usually a special day for a lady, no matter how fancy the day or the lady!

DangAndBlast! said...

Church weddings appear not to have been the norm - nor were big weddings. You have your family and a few friends and neighbors at home, possibly outside (to allow for dancing room), and that's it. At least that's what I've gathered from both my archives work and reading a heck of a lot of late-1800s juvenile and women's literature (written then, not modern books set then).

Regina Scott said...

Thanks, DangAndBlast! I'm finding the same sorts of things. Appreciate you commenting!