}); World Turn'd Upside Down: Mid-1800s/ Civil War Era Marriage Proposals

November 30, 2010

Mid-1800s/ Civil War Era Marriage Proposals

Marriage in the mid-1800s was complex. Marriages were not jut the joining of a man and a woman but a joining of families, businesses, jobs, and wealth. Love was not the only thing to consider in a marriage. A man was looking for an agreeable woman who could take care of his house and raise his family and a woman was looking for a breadwinner.

Many couples married because the situation was pleasing to them even if they were not in love with their spouses. Love was present in many marriages and love was the main reason a man would show interest in a lady.  

Many marriages occurred as a result of a young man writing  his future bride's father indicating his intentions, line of work, and bank contents.

Marriages were not necessarily arranged but general opinion of the time was that young ladies should not have to suffer the embarrassment of making a split-second decision that she might not think through properly or to hurt a gentleman's feelings by rejecting him in person.  It was proper at the time for a rejection to be business-like and the proposal not mentioned by any of the parties afterward.Only if a gentleman was very good friends with a lady would he ask her before her parents.

It was also acceptable for a gentleman to ask a friend to propose the match to the lady or her father. If the gentleman knew that his advances were accepted, he could write a letter asking the young lady herself or ask her in person. If a gentleman was not sure, he was to write a letter to her father and pray that her father liked him.    

Rings were used during some proposals, simple bands were common and only very wealthy gentlemen gave rings with diamonds. The ring was a sentimental token of a gentleman's affection, intended to only be special to the lady, not necessarily valuable. 

Some Marriage Proposals from "How to Do it," by John H. Tingley published in 1864.


  1. Didn't they talk so elegant in the past? I agree this was really interesting. :)

  2. Thanks Atlanta, I thought so too.

    Sarah, Yes, they did--well in print anyway-- I love the sound of it. I think it should definitely be brought back.

  3. I just found your blog, and this post in particular is so helpful! I'm working on a 19th century novel and the proposal information has helped me resolve a plot dilemma. Thanks! I look forward to reading more of your blog.

  4. Thanks so much Laura, I'm glad that it helps.

  5. I can't tell you how thrilled I am to have discovered your site. I've always written contemporary literary fiction before now, so doing research on a time period and getting the details right is brand new to me. Your blog has been a great inspiration today, and I'm excited to read more of your posts. It's such a great gift. Thank you!

  6. I agree with Atlanta, Sarah Lynn and Stephanie Ann. This is what I call chivalry and its dead today.

  7. I love everything about Victorian\Colonial\Civil War time period, and I currently writing a novel about this. I was stubbling trying to discribe my characther's marriage, so I Googled it and what did I get? I fantastic blog teaching me everything i need to know! This was almost, like Laura said, a gift, and I am so happy!!!! thank you!!!

  8. that was my comment, I'm the writer, and here's a little tip Stephanie: Add the age the girls usual got married! thanks

  9. :) I love your blog!!!!!! or did i already mention that?

  10. Thank you, for sharing this information. Very interesting indeed. I am preparing an essay on romance i.e. engagements and marriages in the 19th century and how/why they became popular or occurred on that date. Do you have any sources you can share for getting supportive content?

  11. Hi Audrey, Thanks for commenting. There are a lot of great sources out there on the topic:






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