What marriage was like the year you were born
On its face, marriage seems like a simple proposition. A couple meets, falls in love, decides to spend the rest of their lives together, and plans a ceremony to make their choice official. But in reality, nothing could be more fluid and more ever-evolving than marriage, which has changed tremendously over the past century alone.
One hundred years ago, interracial and same-sex marriages were illegal, women were not allowed to gain access to lines of credit without a husband—or the signature of another willing male—and couples in and out of wedlock were not allowed to procure contraception. In the past century, norms regarding marriage and its accompanying privileges have evolved along with gender equality.
And broad societal changes aren’t the only things that have impacted marriage over the past 100 years. Trends in weddings themselves have reflected technological changes and advancements as they have happened, with photographs replacing portraits, camcorders supplanting photographs, and Instagram—and its accompanying wedding hashtags—making it all visible and archived on the internet.
Wedding fashion has changed dramatically over the years, too. From the flapper fashions of the 1920s to the flower child daisy bouquets of the 1960s and the big sleeves on the wedding gowns of the 1980s, the way a bride looks when she walks down the aisle has reflected the times at every turn.
And while celebrity and royal weddings —from Kate Middleton to Kim Kardashian—have always captured the public’s interest, a new kind of wedding came to fascinate people over the course of the century: those of strangers. From flash mob weddings that make for viral videos to reality television’s penchant for making stars of ordinary people looking for love, it seems the public appetite for stories of love and matrimony is bottomless.
Stacker took a look at just what was happening in marriage during every year of the past century, highlighting the most important trends or events leading to the simple words, “I do.” To explore what marriage was like in every year of the past century, Stacker compiled data from Randal Olson’s analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) marriage and divorce data, the CDC’s 2018 National Marriage and Divorce Report, and the U.S. Census Historical Marital Status tables.
Read on to learn about what marriage was like the year you were born.
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1919: The wedding planner is born
- Marriages: 1.15 million (10.9 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 142,000 (1.4 per 1,000 people)
After World War I, formal weddings became increasingly popular. And those without social secretaries to manage the details of these increasingly-elaborate affairs began turning to a new type of organizer to handle everything from the flowers to the food—the wedding planner.
1920: Two Jazz Age icons get hitched
- Marriages: 1.27 million (12 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 171,000 (1.6 per 1,000 people)
- Median age at first marriage: Men: 24.6; Women: 21.2
The 1920s would come to be called the Roaring Twenties, and no couple embodied it more than the era’s chronicler, F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose novels “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender is the Night” captured the time in all its heady glamour. Fitzgerald married Zelda Sayre in April 1920, a week after “Tender is the Night” was published. The couple wed at New York City’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral, with only eight guests in attendance.
1921: Hemingway marries his first wife
- Marriages: 1.16 million (10.7 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 160,000 (1.5 per 1,000 people)
Not to be outdone by his contemporary Fitzgerald, America’s other most famous man of letters, Ernest Hemingway, married his first wife Hadley Richardson in September 1921. The couple had known each other for less than a year, and during their honeymoon at the Hemingway family cottage on Walloon Lake, Michigan, the couple both came down with a fever, sore throat and cough. The couple would divorce in 1927, after Richardson discovered Hemingway’s affair with Pauline Pfeiffer, who became his second wife.
1922: A royal wedding for the ages
- Marriages: 1.13 million (10.3 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 149,000 (1.4 per 1,000 people)
After two banner American literary weddings, the British royal family took the title for wedding of the year in 1922. The most important nuptials that year were those between Princess Mary of England and Lord Henry Lascelles. The couple was married at Westminster Abbey, and it was the first wedding of a monarch’s child to be held at the famous religious site since 1290.
1923: A Turkish union makes strides toward gender equality
- Marriages: 1.23 million (11 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 165,000 (1.5 per 1,000 people)
Turkish President Mustafa Kemal Ataturk made waves in 1923 when he married Latife Hanim. Hanim was highly educated and wasted no time getting involved with her husband’s political affairs. “In order to create a new family life in our fatherland, I must set a good example myself,” Ataturk said. “Are women to remain eternal servants?"
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1924: The first wedding registry
- Marriages: 1.19 million (10.4 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 171,000 (1.5 per 1,000 people)
While long common to give the bride and groom gifts on their wedding day, it wasn’t until 1924 that there became a way to track what the bride and groom wanted and what they already had received. The department store Marshall Fields forever solved the age-old problem of duplicate punch bowls and china sets in 1924 when it introduced the wedding registry, which has helped married couples ever since start out their lives together with many of the things they need.
1925: A Southern belle is remarried
- Marriages: 1.19 million (10.3 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 175,000 (1.5 per 1,000 people)
“Gone with the Wind” author Margaret Mitchell was considered a rebel her whole life, often breaking with the traditions of her conservative Southern peers. Among her rebellious acts was re-marrying at the young age of 25, when she wed John Robert Marsh. The couple set up residence in a small apartment they happily called “the Dump,” and soon thereafter Mitchell began work on the manuscript that would make her famous.
1926: Celluloid superstars wed
- Marriages: 1.20 million (10.2 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 185,000 (1.6 per 1,000 people)
The famous film director Alfred Hitchcock married his longtime girlfriend Alma Reville in 1926, five years after meeting her in Berlin. But Reville was much more than Hitchcock’s wife—she was also his longtime collaborator, and Hitchcock was fond of telling their mutual friends that Reville had actually entered the film business before even he did.
1927: Flappers get married in style
- Marriages: 1.20 million (10.1 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 196,000 (1.6 per 1,000 people)
The 1920s were known for “flapper” fashions, which were marked by dropped-waist silhouettes, raised hemlines, and bobbed hair. Wedding attire was far from immune to this new liberated spirit. Photos of bridal parties in 1927 show brides wearing diaphanous dresses that hit well above the ankle-length and longer gowns favored in the Edwardian era, which would have enabled brides to more easily break into the Charleston on the dance floor.
1928: Paving the way for wedding photography
- Marriages: 1.18 million (9.8 per 1,000 people)
- Divorces: 200,000 (1.7 per 1,000 people)
A major milestone on the way to today’s ubiquitous wedding photography was reached in 1928, when the world’s first automatic film was patented. Automatic film would later allow weddings to be captured as they unfolded, rather than simply in staged portraiture before or after the ceremony and reception.
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