EARLY APPALACHIAN MARRIAGE CUSTOMS: MOST RELATIONSHIPS PREARRANGED BY FAMILY MEMBERS.
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
When discussing the mountain folk and their courtships, one has to go back to the beginning. In the past, courtships and marriage in Appalachia were quite different than today.
In olden times in Appalachia, the woman's role was to take care of the home, raise the children, and provide for her husband. During this time, the man was undoubtedly the head of the household, with the wife doing exactly as she was told to do.
Appalachian people were mostly bonded together within their own families. More often than not, an entire family would dwell on the same piece of property, usually in a hollow. Everyone knew their own kin, and if a child were born to a young couple that was closely related, that child would probably be mentally handicapped.
Family members prearranged just about all relationships. When a young girl became of age, or when she was old enough to bear children, her father sought out a young male to be her spouse. If the father did not approve of the young man, the daughter was not allowed to see him.
Courtships were generally short-lived. The term of two or three weeks was deemed sufficient for this custom, with the marriage then being consummated. Girls were thirteen to fifteen, on the average, when they married, and the grooms were from fifteen to eighteen.
Most weddings took place in the home of the bride, since church weddings were quite rare. Many times the young couple and their families would make a trip to the county courthouse and the County Judge would perform the ceremony. Very possibly the term 'goin courtin' originated from this practice. Money certainly being absent, there was no honeymoon. Frequently, the couple would reside at the bride's home the first night, and sometimes reside in the home for six months to a year. The length of this stay would generally be a term long enough for the groom to save enough money to build a house.
If a young, unmarried girl were to become pregnant, the father would make the father of the child marry his daughter, sometimes at gunpoint. It seems evident that the term 'shotgun wedding' originated with this practice.
The man's job was to earn money, generally working in the logging business or in a coal mine. As was mentioned earlier, the woman's job was to provide for the man. She was the supervisor of the cooking, cleaning, feeding the livestock, and raising the children.
It was deemed inappropriate for the wives to be seen while the men were eating. They would prepare the food, set the table and return to the kitchen while the men absorbed the fine meal. The women would eat their meals in the kitchen.
Women were seldom seen out in public and, if they were, they always stayed beside or behind their husbands. It was commonplace to see a man walking down the road with his wife walking behind him.
Most couples attended church in those days. If so, the woman was required to wear a veil over her face, or at least, one that would cover her eyes. It was regarded as wrong to look at another man's wife in the eyes, and if a married woman would look at another man in the eyes, it was considered flirting.
It was customary to find most wives pregnant, they having a baby a year. Men considered a pregnant woman undesirable. This belief was that the husband would make certain his wife would stay true to him. Many Appalachian women became so fatigued from having babies that they would die at an early age. It wasn't rare for a man to have had three or four wives and thirty or forty children.
The preceding is an account of the past. Without the present day ladies, man's life would be just a mere existence. A grand salute to the ladies of the world.
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