Ryan Taylor Delights in old wedding announcements


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By Ryan Taylor

Twenty years ago at the Kitchener Public Library, I had a colleague who would say severely, "A woman is somebody’s daughter until she’s somebody’s wife." It was already an unfashionable view then, and I doubt that many people subscribe to it today.

This is reflected in old marriage announcements, where the bride would be named as ‘Lizzie, daughter of Wm. Hunking,’ (the mother got no credit) and then she’d become ‘Mrs. George Boyes.’ As recently as ten years ago or so, I saw an obituary in which the dead woman’s name did not appear, only her husband’s.

These and other reflections have come to mind while I’ve been reading old newspaper marriage announcements from across Canada. It seems to me that the golden age of wedding announcements was from about 1930 to 1980, when newspapers had the space for a full description of what people wore, what was sung and exactly who was there.

This is rare now, although The New York Times has wedding announcements which include information about the participants’ social background, occupations and even tales of how they met. Last month, the Times announced that its weddings page was changing it policy and would be renamed to ‘Weddings/Celebrations’ and would for the future include gay and lesbian weddings, joining celebrations of a non-legal nature, which shows how things continue to evolve.

Old wedding notices will usually tell us the names of the participants and the bride’s father, where everyone lived and who performed the ceremony, in addition to the date. By the time the longer descriptions came into use, both sets of parents were getting their full due.

It is charming to see the way fashions in dresses and flowers change. In the thirties, women wore satin, but in the sixties, it was all peau-de-soie. Now there are other man-made fibres to provide the full body and rustling texture needed by a glorious big dress.

Victorian brides would often pick their own bouquets, either from the garden or from the hedgerows near their farmhouse, whatever was available at the time. Roses came to the fore early in the last century and haven’t really gone away, although the tiny flowers accompanying them have changed. At one time, it was always baby’s breath, and then it changed to stephanotis, whose white, waxy quality and staying power made them popular. Now some brides choose to have ‘wild flowers’ once more, even if they are supplied by the florist.

When Rosemary Connolly was married in Medicine Hat in 1935, she wore a satin dress, carried premier roses and lily of the valley, and her long veil was trimmed with orange blossoms, the original symbol of the bride. They were part of every bride’s outfit at one time.

Some of the accounts leave us wondering what was meant. Another 1935 Medicine Hat bride was said to have been, "daintily attired in a gown of lilac georgette, with white accessories and madonna hat. She was attended by Mrs. George Harris, who wore an attractive swagger suit." A fashion dictionary might be required to discover what ‘georgette’ was. Does it seem right that the matron of honour was swaggering?

The Vancouver Province in 1948 listed all the parties given for lucky couples. Very different to now, many of them included men. Not all the pre-nuptial affairs are showers, but include lunches, teas, ‘after-fives’ (cocktail parties) as well as evening parties, which do not presume gift-giving, but only celebration.

What fun these old newspapers are, and how much detail they add for the family history! They include jokes too, of a mild kind, such as this one from the Alberta Star of 1909: "According to a Springfield, Ill. paper, Charles I. Gosh was married the other day to Anne B. Damm. The bride revised her name downwards."

Column copyright © 2002 Ryan Taylor

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