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Learn More. Inthe editor of the Southern Literary Messenger received a letter from H. Having made up my mind not to be an old maidand having only a moderate fortune and less beauty. I fear I shall find it rather difficult to accomplish my wishes. Nearlymen were killed in the war, a approximately equal to the deaths in all other American wars from the Revolution to the Korean War combined. A generation of southern women faced the prospect of becoming spinsters reliant on their families for support. This article attempts to fill that gap.
It relies on samples of the federal decennial censuses from through to compare white marriage patterns before and after the war. Faced with a shortage of potential spouses in the postwar period, some women postponed marriage or chose less appropriate husbands. The vast majority approximately 92 percent of southern white women who came of marriage age during the war married at some point in their lives. Indeed, the marriage squeeze on southern women apparent in the census is no longer evident in the census.
First of all, before they married, young couples were expected to acquire the economic resources to establish an independent household.
The age of marriage, therefore, depended on real wages, inheritance, and the relative cost of purchasing land, farms, farm machinery, and homes. Although studies are few and subject to possible biases, most scholars agree that the ready availability of inexpensive land in colonial America made marriage feasible at an early age.
As a result, marriages occurred several years earlier, on average, in colonial America than in Europe, and much higher proportions of the population eventually married. Community-based studies suggest an average age at marriage of about 20 years for women in the early colonial period and about 26 for men. As population densities increased and land prices rose in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, American couples delayed marriage, and a higher proportion remained permanently unmarried.
The published census figures forwhich are the earliest that permit estimates of age at marriage, reveal that the mean age at marriage was Whether and when young men and women married also depended on the presence of desirable alternatives to marriage. Twentieth-century demographers have observed that women are more likely to postpone marriage, remain permanently unmarried, or disrupt current marriages when they have greater opportunities for education and for entering the paid labor force.
All else being equal, white men and women married later in life in areas with high proportions of single, wage-earning women and earlier in areas with low proportions. Finally, marriage timing and the proportion of men and women who eventually married are strongly correlated with the availability of potential marriage partners.
An imbalance in the sex ratio—perhaps as a result of sex differentials in migration, rapid changes in the size of birth cohorts, or sex differentials in mortality—reduces the likelihood of marriage. Severe imbalances in the of men and women can cause a marriage squeeze.
Sex differentials in migration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, for example, resulted in men greatly outing women in the West and women ificantly outing men in the East. The imbalance created a marriage squeeze on men in western census regions and on women in eastern census regions.
The effect of the civil war on southern marriage patterns
Far more women remained permanently unmarried in the East than on the frontier, where they continued to marry at the young ages and high proportions characteristic of the early colonial period. Differences in cohort size and cultural expectations about the appropriate age differentials between husbands and wives put additional pressure on unmarried women, who typically married men four or five years older than themselves.
The of children born in the United States increased each year. Infor example, white women from 20 through 24 years old outed white men from 25 to 29 by 13 percent. The American Civil War increased the difficulty of family formation caused by sex differentials in migration and differences in cohort size. Although all states had high participation Orleans IN women dating white men, the institution of slavery allowed the South to mobilize a greater proportion of its men of military age.
Gary Gallagher estimates that the South had mobilized between 75 and 85 percent of its white male population of military age by the end of the war. In contrast, approximately 50 percent of the white male population of military age enlisted in the North. Despite the obvious hindrance that military service posed to courtship and marriage, observers frequently noted that the war acted as a catalyst for marriage. Letters to relatives were replete with inquiries about who was marrying whom and exhortations to local women not to marry other suitors, especially slackers and men exempt from the draft.
Royal whilst I am gone away to fight the battles of Va. Lehew tease you about my being at Harpers Ferry, tell him you would not have a sweetheart unless he was willing to risk his life in defense of his country and also that you would never marry any man who staid at home and had nothing better to do than teaze the ladies.
A flurry of marriages occurred early in the war, whenever men went on furlough, and then again at the end of the war. Strange that these sons of Mars can so assiduously devote themselves to Cupid and Hymen; but every respite, every furlough, must be thus employed.
Some of the churches may be seen open and lighted almost every night for bridals, and wherever I turn I hear of marriages in prospect. I heard many of the soldiers say the same. During the war southern women, too, aspired to marry. As time passed and casualties mounted, some women became reed to life without a husband. Others were willing to compromise on acceptable partners.
After the war, wealth became less important in the economically devastated South when contracting marriages, and many women married below their social class. Father would be willing but Mother and the sisters think, because they had these clothes I must have them, too.
The shortage of suitable men after the war gave those remaining many choices of women to marry, allowing widowers to remarry and others to try to escape their former obligations. Though more evidence is needed to draw concrete conclusions, a few northern and southern men may have attempted to remarry without divorce.
Southerner Anna Bragg related to her husband news of a widower with three children remarrying and also described the wedding of Captain Paine to Miss Mary Frincks. After the war, white southerners responded to interracial marriage with violence. John Blassingame, for example, has argued that the death of white men in the war led to a postwar increase in sexual contacts between white women and black men in New Orleans.
Although instances of interracial marriage and cohabitation occurred during Reconstruction in s large enough to suggest some initial level of toleration from white neighbors, the vast majority of white women—confronted with the possibility of violence, rigid enforcement of miscegenation laws, and the vast social distance between themselves and black men—married white men. Not only the deaths of white men but also their wounds affected the prospects for marriage in the aftermath of the war.
One of the most important roles of nurses, official matrons, and volunteer hospital visitors was to help wounded men cope with the psychological impact of their injuries. The young man had suffered a facial wound and lost a leg.
Female hospital workers and visitors treated disfigured patients as heroes instead of shrinking from them in horror or pity.
Judith McGuire, a volunteer nurse, eased the anxiety of a man eager to travel home to marry his sweetheart. Letter writers and diary keepers commented frequently on wartime marriage, but after the war many of them stopped writing; the resulting silence created a gap in evidence about postwar marriage patterns.
During the war, many Americans sensed that they were living through exciting, unique times. In order to record their experiences and reactions, they started keeping personal diaries, only to stop writing when the conflict ended. Many southerners stopped confiding to diaries because the humiliation and pain of defeat left them unable or unwilling to express themselves in writing.
Furthermore, letter writing decreased from wartime levels as soldiers and refugees returned home.
Women, especially, avoided recording events and sentiments that could be perceived as dishonoring Confederate veterans and their military service, and imbalanced sex ratios and the marriage squeeze may have served to remind southerners of their loss. Finally, people, particularly southern women, may have stopped writing about marriage after the war simply because the fears of spinsterhood expressed during the war were not realized. Risk assessment experts and cultural demographers have noted that perceptions of demographic patterns often do not match reality and are biased in predictable ways.
Extraordinary, catastrophic, and uncontrollable risks, such as those posed by epidemics, natural disasters, and wars, are perceived to have a much greater impact than more ordinary and controllable risks.
Given the dearth of qualitative evidence on postwar marriage patterns and the possible biases of observers, quantitative data are required to document postwar marriage patterns. However, it is impossible to determine year-to-year variations in marriage during the war itself — or in its immediate aftermath — ; there may well have been some short-term effects on marriage that were resolved in the five years between the end of the war and the enumeration.
Therefore, it is possible to examine only the long-term impact of the war on first marriages.
The short-term effect of the war on the timing and incidence of marriages and its short- and long-term effects on remarriage are difficult or impossible to discern from census records. Table 1 shows various measures of the timing and incidence of first marriage for white men and women in the census years,and arranged by age and census region. However, the sectional averages provide modest support for the hypothesis that the war created a marriage squeeze among southern white women. The mean age at first marriage for southern white women rose 0. At the same time, the mean age at first marriage for southern white men fell 0.
The greater death rate of young men in the Confederate forces and the resulting imbalance in the of men and women seeking to marry is the most likely reason for the distinct southern pattern. The imbalance is reflected in the sex ratio the of white men from 20 through 29 years old per white women in the same age range. In the North, the sex ratio declined a modest 1. In the South, the decline was a much steeper In essence, for every white women from 20 to 29 years old, there were 4.
The sex ratio, however, is a crude measure of potential marriage partners. It includes many men and women currently married and thus unavailable as potential spouses. An estimate of the marital sex ratio—the ratio of the expected of first marriages among white men to the expected among white women—is therefore also included in Table 1.
In the North, the marital sex ratio declined a modest 4. In southern census regions, however, the ratio declined a sharp This means that for every southern white women expected to be entering marriage in there would be just 70 southern white men. The lower age at first marriage for southern white men after the war, as compared with before the war, may have been related to the decrease in competition for property and in the purchase price of farms and businesses and to the greater probability of their inheriting property.
After the war, there were fewer people in a position to make large purchases.
Furthermore, land prices collapsed, which made it cheaper to purchase a new farm. In Orange County, North Carolina, for instance, the average of sons mentioned in wills declined Lower farm prices, less competition, and greater shares of inheritances, however, were probably offset by reduced wealth, reduced savings, reduced incomes, increased taxes, and the bleak economic conditions of the postwar South.
Most white families—especially slave-holding families—lost substantial real and personal wealth because of the war, which probably lowered the value of intergenerational transfers to young couples considering marriage. Although young white men could expect less competition from other southern white men for farms, they faced increased competition from a small but growing of blacks and northern whites.