'Boston Marriage'



This phrase does not refer to a male-female couple married in the city of Boston, but rather a phrase that was popularly know at the end of the 19th century; the Victorian Era.

Boston Marriage‘ was a term used in the 19th century and into the early 20th century to refer to two single women living together, independent of men. The term was originally coined in Henry James’ 1886 novel “The Bostonians”, which told the tale of an intimate companionship between two wealthy, Boston women. The whole concept was not just fiction but rather an accepted practice in America at that time. However it might have been that romantic friendships between women reached a zenith in eighteenth-century England.

It became socially accepted for women to live together, hold down jobs (or have a source of income such as an inheritance), be financially independent from any male and also be romantic in public to each other, just as if they were ‘married’ to each other. It was also known as ‘domestic partnership’.

If you check on your family tree, there just might have been a great-great aunt who lived with another woman for years in the same household. True, many single ladies also lived with family members, a brother, an uncle or a sister, but there were many unrelated ladies together in one household.

An early two females accepted as married was in 1806 – Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant of Weybridge, VT. They had their own tailoring business, attend church, lived in one household, involved in charity work and paid for their nephews and nieces education. The couple were trusted to instill practical skills as well as good deportment. The seamstresses were well-known for making good, sturdy men’s clothing. Local parents trusted and respected them enough to send many young girls to them as live-in apprentice seamstresses. Sylvia and Charity even added an addition to their small house to provide more space for the apprentice girls to work and sleep. The couple stayed together, Charity died in 1851 and Sylvia in 1868.

Any interesting similar ancestors on your family tree?

Photos: Frances Shimer and Cindarella Gregory in 1869; two ladies from about 1900 and Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant met, fell in love, and spent the rest of their lives together as in this 1820 silhouetted portraits.

Related FamilyTree Blogs:

Female Inventors of the 19th Century

Making of America in the 19th Century

19th Century Slang

 

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