Young People and Marriage

16-year-old Helena Muffly wrote exactly 100 years ago today: 

Thursday, March 23, 1911:  Ruth and I received an invitation to the wedding. But oh dear me it is two wks. off. It took a streak of being cold today. This is such uncertain weather. Hope I will be warm on the sixth for then I intend to have some fun.

Her middle-aged granddaughter’s comments 100 years later:

Grandma seems excited about getting an invitation to the wedding of a senior in her high school. I wondered what people thought made a good marriage a hundred years ago. I found an article in a 1911 issue of Ladies Home Journal about marriage.  Just as we do now, older people worried about young people making good decisions about relationships. Some of the concepts, suggestions, and concerns seem incredibly modern—others extremely quaint.

 Our Young People and Marriage

Whether it is because of the increase in divorce or whatever it is, we are hearing a great deal these days about new forms of the marriage relation or changes in our present form of marriage. With all these suggested changes there is always sounded one note: that monogamy as we call the present sex relation of marriage of one man to one woman, and vice versa, was forced upon the world by the authority of a church, or by stern moralists who were regardless of the finer aesthetic interests of human nature. And then generally follows some argument, carefully put into the form of a question, as to whether the love feeling, the love relation, could not be better realized if the present yoke, the present form of marriage, which has been put upon men and women, were shaken off in part if not in whole. 

To those of us who have lived a few years all these alternative arrangements between men and women that are suggested are read with interest, perhaps, and then dismissed. We know that all these brand-new and novel suggestions have been tried and found wanting. But to the minds of the younger people they are new, and to their minds also they bring thoughts that are dangerous unless healthfully met. The ideas, generally very seductively put, of what one writer will call “trial marriage”, another will call “experimental marriage,” a third will call “a ten-year arrangement,” and a fourth will base upon that meaningless, but more alluring word “affinity”—all these are tremendously fascinating to a young developing mind. It is all very well for us elders to “pooh-pooh” these ideas and dismiss them as unworthy of thought, but the young do no “pooh-pooh” them, and they are not dismissing them. We ought to wake up to the fact that certain questionings about the present form of the marriage relation have not only fallen into the minds of our young people, but that they are also resting here, and in some instances actually taking root. This is particularly true of young girls. What we need to do, whenever one of these wonderfully interesting, and novel proposals (for such they are to the young) finds expression, is to take down our histories of the world and read a bit to our young people, and show them that these seemingly new ideas are not new: that they have all been tried: and that the poor, lumbering, halting human race has, after all, found—not because in the nature of God said it, not because moralists said it, but because in the nature of things it is so—that the faithful and steadfast relation of one man and one woman is the best and only relation that has stood the test of time and of practically all peoples. And to our young girls should it be particularly pointed out that it is the only sound relation on the interest of women, because if other relations were tried women would inevitably be the first and the greatest sufferers.

Ladies Home Journal (August 1911) 


An aside to those of you who managed to get through that dense article and are still reading—

Every time I read Ladies Home Journal articles from 1911 I’m amazed at how hard they are to read—long paragraphs, complex sentences, and difficult words. I put the above 1911 text into the “SMOG” readability tool—and found that the grade level was 15.3 years. Text from recent issues of the Ladies Home Journal is at about an 8th grade level. The Journal then as now, was a mass circulation women’s magazine. It’s absolutely amazing how well most women could read a century ago. The schools must have been doing something right!