What do you know, Matt Walsh is wrong about marriage. I think listing subjects about which he is right might make for a less cumbersome list.
Anyway, so Libby Anne responded to Walsh’s post exhorting people to get married young. As is usual, my attempted comment started running into multiple volumes and so I decided to throw things here. The following is a collection of historical bits from various books I have read over the years and the sum paints a picture of marriage that doesn’t…quite…jive…with Walsh’s assumptions. I’ll add more as the spirit so moves me and I find new tidbits.
From Bill Bryson’s At Home
With so many lives foreshortened, marriages in the preindustrial world tended to be brief. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the average marriage lasted just ten years before one or the other of the partners expired.
In the 1960s, the Stanford historian Peter Laslett did a careful study of British marriage records and found that at no time in the recorded past did people regularly marry at very early ages. Between 1619 and 1660, for instance, 85 percent of women were nineteen or older when married; just one in a thousand was thirteen or under. The median age at marriage for brides was twenty-three years and seven months, and for men it was nearly twenty-eight years – not very different from the ages of today. William Shakespeare himself was unusual in being married at eighteen while his wife, Anne, was unusally old at twenty-six.
[Edmond] Halley’s figures showed, for instance, that Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) contained seven thousand women of child-bearing age yet only twelve hundred gave birth each year – “little more than a sixth part,” as he noted. Clearly the great majority of women at any time were taking careful steps to avoid pregnancy. So childbirth, in Breslau anyway, wasn’t some inescapable burden to which women had to submit, but a largely voluntary act.
From Coffee Made Her Insane, compiled by Peg Meier
Notice. Whereas my husband, John Brown, has left my bed and board without just cause or provocation for the term of three years, therefor I, Sophia Brown and determined and do hereby declare in the event of his non-appearance or continued silence, that I shall substitute another man in his position.
-Red Wing Republican, Sept. 11, 1957
In Wright county there lives a young mother, who at the age of eleven years and eight months gave birth to a fine, healthy child, and at last accounts both were doing well. The husband of this smart young mother is only nineteen years of age. She is undoubtedly the youngest mother in the State of Minnesota.
-St. Anthony Falls Democrat, Jan 14, 1870
A few weeks since Charlotte Elizabeth Dyring, about to become a mother, was taken to the Cottage Hospital, where, at the earnest solicitation of one or two citizens, she was finally permitted to remain. Sunday last, Ole Olstrom returned from the pineries, at once visited the hospital, where to his surprise he found that he was the father of a bright baby, eight days old, which on that afternoon was to be baptized by Dr. Kickerbacker. After a little persuasion he concluded to marry the unfortunate girl whom he had so wronged, and the marriage ceremony was performed by Dr. Knickerbacker just previous to the baptism.
-Minneapolis Tribune, June 8, 1875
Arrest of an Abortionist. Dr. C. Delaine, of Red Wing, was arrested last week on a charge of committing an abortion upon Christine Anderson, a young unmarried woman residing at that place. The woman Anderson fled from Red Wing and took refuge in this city, where she was found subsequent to the arrest of the doctor and escorted back to our sister city, and is now detained as a witness against the abortionist.
-Wabasha County Sentinel, Lake City, March 20, 1878
Northfield, Rice county, is reported to have seventeen unmarried females who are trying to give away their babies.
-Goodhue County Republican, Red Wing, April 24, 1879
Jake Winnick, of Atwater, recently became his former wife’s step-father, by getting divorced from her and marrying her mother, Mrs. Ferguson. He must like the breed.
-Minneapolis Tribune, Dec. 10, 1881
From Lloyd deMause’s chapter in The History of Childhood
Although in the two centuries after Augustus, some attempts were made to pay parents to keep children alive in order to replenish the dwindling Roman Population, it was not until the fourth century that real change was apparent. The law began to consider killing an infant murder only in 374 A.D.
Despite much literary evidence, however, the continued existence of widespread infanticide in the Middle Ages is usually denied by medievalists, since it is not evident in church records and other quantitative sources. But if sex ratios of 156 to 100 (c. 801 A.D.) and 172 to 100 (1391 A.D.) are any indication of the extent of the killing of legitimate girls, and if illegitimates were usually killed regardless of sex, the real rate of infanticide could have been substantial in the Middle Ages.
As late as 1527, one priest admitted that “the latrines resound with the cries of children who have been plunged into them.”