Inspirational Stories of Love, Faith & Family Set in 19th Century America

Category: Courting

Mapping Your Way to Matrimony

Have you ever wondered why relationships with the opposite sex were so difficult? Have you ever wished for an easier way to navigate the uncertain waters of romance? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a map or App to bypass disappointment and broken hearts and get right to the “happily ever after?”

Complete with land masses, oceans, islands, cities & towns, as well as a key for the lost, Matrimonial Maps were a huge fad in the nineteenth century. Once again, we can shake our heads at those spirited Victorians who managed to diagram the perilous journey from first blush to matrimony while avoiding the pitfalls that might lead to “Divorce Island” where one would be banished and isolated from all good society. Acknowledging that lovers would suffer agonies of confusion as they tried to navigate romantic relationships, these drawing room novelties represented emotional struggles like treachery, jealousy, pity and prudence as insurmountable mountains or hazardous caverns.

“Map of Matrimony” (Photo courtesy Library of Congress)

This undated “Map of Matrimony” above was probably published in the 19th century and is part of the national collection in the Library of Congress. Promoting itself as a succinct guide for “timid lovers,” promising to help them navigate the “the orbit of affection” in order to find their way to the “true haven of conjugal happiness.” This particular map offers such geographical parodies as a “Coast of Doubt”, a “Whirlpool of Reflection,”  and “Shoals of Fickleness.” Most matrimonial maps relied heavily on the imaginative mind of its creator,  this map sports a real world location in its use of the “Cape of Good Hope.” Note the reference in the bottom right, as the ship references its longitude east from “common sense.”

The State of Matrimony, GE Moray, 1909. (Photo courtesy of Barron Maps)

Matrimonial maps survived into the 20th century like the one above designed by New York restaurant owner, George Edward Moray in 1909 as an advertising card. Moray’s map instructs the reader to “enter the State of Matrimony from either the State of Innocence, the State of Single Blessedness, or the Ocean of Love.” If you desire a quick trip to your ultimate destination, he advises you to purchase transportation on one of three railroads: “The Ceremony R.R., The Elopement R.R., or the Common Law R.R.” The only way out, according to Moray’s map, was to ride the “Divorce Rapid Transit R.R. into the State of Irresponsibility.” A unique feature of this map is that the vast majority of locations are real place names.

Victorian Valentine, “Map of Matrimony” by George Skaife Beeching, c1880. (Photo: Courtesy Barron Maps)

While many maps of matrimony were intended for wall display,  others were found on Victorian valentines like the one pictured directly above. Unlike “vinegar valentines,” These humorous cards delicately satirized courtship, offering a little social commentary on the rituals of courtship. A bachelor’s perilous journey might lead him to the “Rocks of Disappointment” or require him to  traverse the “Falls of Doubt” or crossover the turbulent waters of the “Sea of Propriety” before happily arriving in the “Land of Matrimony.” Meanwhile a hopeful female will have to avoid the “Land of Spinsters” and navigate uncharted waters in the “Sea of Introduction” before finally sailing triumphantly into the “Bay of Engagement.” But her journey rarely ends there, as she will no doubt need to visit the “Provence of Jewellers & Millners” or “Wedding Cake Land” before happily entering into the “Region of Rejoicing.”

With choices like the “Lake of Content” or “Disappointment Harbor,” these entertaining parodies on love and courtship in the nineteenth century revealed the fine nuances as well as the dangerous pitfalls that lovers can still relate to today.

With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, you may want to consider designing a Map of Matrimony for your beloved relating the journey your relationship took to wedded bliss. My journey to the “Land of Matrimony” would begin at “Chance Encounter Cove” with a long journey through the “Gulf of Flirtation” and the “Region of Exclusive Relationship” before taking a sudden, sharp detour through the “Bay of Broken Hearts.” But not to worry, my resourceful bachelor found his way to “Restoration Island” then sailed with me to the “Land of Happily Ever After.”

What geographical feature would you put on your Map of Matrimony?

 

Peculiar Courting Customs

Long before the automobile, telephone and the Friday night football game defined modern dating, there was courtship. A serious, exclusive commitment usually sanctioned by both sets of parents, that often implied the couple was intending to marry. But in times when the opposite sex didn’t mingle in public unless chaperoned, how did perspective beaus let a lady know she had captured his affections? Here’s some fun and quite unusual customs from the past that helped pave the wave to romance for our ancestors.

Antique Welsh Love Spoons

Antique Welsh Love Spoons

Carved from the Heart

In Wales, when a young man wanted to court, he carved his special lady a love spoon. Intricate in detail, these love offerings took hours to craft thereby demonstrating his devotion to his intended. If the young woman accepted the spoon, they were considered courting. Although this ritual has faded in modern Wales, love spoons are still given as gifts for weddings, anniversaries and Valentine’s day.

FAN-tastic Flirting

With all their rules about the opposite sex mingling, those stodgy upper-class Victorians made the art of wooing a woman tricky indeed. Since a gentleman was not allowed to speak to a woman to whom he hadn’t been properly introduced, he needed some clue a lady was open to his attention. Thus the language of the fan was born.  When a lady caught a man staring from across the room, her swift moving fan indicated she was unattached while a slow flapping one signaled she was engaged. If she laid the fan against her right cheek, she was available and open to an introduction. However, if the lady rested the fan against her left cheek, the unlucky fellow learned of her disinterest and spared himself an awkward introduction.

Speak Up, I Can’t Hear You

Couple using a courting stick

Couple using a courting stick

In 17th century America, a young man had little opportunity to woo his love in private. How was he to convince the lady he fancied of his unending devotion when in cramped quarters with her father hovering closeby? The answer, the courting trumpet (also know as a whispering stick or courting tube). By placing one end of a hollow wooden tube in her ear while her beau whispered sweet nothings from the other side, the couple ensured their privacy no matter how many listening ears were nearby.

Seal the Deal with Fruit

If you thought a carved wooden spoon was practical, how about a slice of apple? In rural Austria, available young ladies would shove an apple wedge in their armpit during dances. At the conclusion of festivities, she offered it to the lucky young man she most admired. Now if you’re like me you’re already wrinkling your nose. But wait it gets even better. If he returns her affections, he eats the fruit!

If my hubby were required to eat this putrid offering, I can nearly guarantee I’d still be single! While this old-fashioned gal loves to keep old traditions alive, eating the apple wedge is one courting ritual that should stay buried in the past!

Another old-fashioned way lovers kept the romance alive in the not-so-distant past was letter writing. While living on opposite sides of the country, in the dark ages before email and texting, my hubby wooed me the old-fashioned way– hand-written letters. We kept the post office in business, often exchanging 3-5 letters every week. I still have them in a box in my mother’s hope chest at the foot of my bed.

How did your sweetie woo you?

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