as a term is said to have been in use in New England in the decades spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries to describe two women living together, independent of financial support from a man. The term was little known until the debut in 2000 of the David Mamet
David Alan Mamet is an American playwright, essayist, screenwriter and film director.Best known as a playwright, Mamet won a Pulitzer Prize and received a Tony nomination for Glengarry Glen Ross . He also received a Tony nomination for Speed-the-Plow . As a screenwriter, he received Oscar...
Boston Marriage is a 1999 play by American playwright David Mamet. The play concerns two women at the turn of the 20th century who are in a "Boston marriage," a relationship between two females that may involve both physical and emotional intimacy...
of the same name. Since 2000, many mentions of "Boston marriage" cite as examples the same few literary figures, in particular the Maine
Maine is a state in the New England region of the northeastern United States, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the east and south, New Hampshire to the west, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec to the northwest and New Brunswick to the northeast. Maine is both the northernmost and easternmost...
local color novelist Sarah Orne Jewett
Sarah Orne Jewett was an American novelist and short story writer, best known for her local color works set in or near South Berwick, Maine, on the border of New Hampshire, which in her day was a declining New England seaport.-Biography:Jewett's family had been residents of New England for many...
and Annie Adams Fields
Annie Adams Fields was a United States writer.- 1834 -1881 :Born in Boston, Massachusetts, she was the second wife of the publisher and author James Thomas Fields, whom she married in 1854, and with whom she encouraged up and coming writers such as Sarah Orne Jewett, Mary Freeman, and Emma Lazarus...
her late life companion, the widow of the editor of The Atlantic Monthly
. There is often an assumption that in the era when the term was in use, it denoted a lesbian relationship. However, there is no documentary proof that any particular "Boston marriage" included sexual relations. In general, the amount of historical and social scientific knowledge of this phenomenon, and even of the currency of the term at the turn of the 20th century, is scant.
Origin of the term
The term Boston marriage
was used by Henry James
Henry James, OM was an American-born writer, regarded as one of the key figures of 19th-century literary realism. He was the son of Henry James, Sr., a clergyman, and the brother of philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James....
in The Bostonians
The Bostonians is a novel by Henry James, first published as a serial in The Century Magazine in 1885–1886 and then as a book in 1886. This bittersweet tragicomedy centers on an odd triangle of characters: Basil Ransom, a political conservative from Mississippi; Olive Chancellor, Ransom's cousin...
(1886), a novel involving a long-term co-habiting relationship between two unmarried women, "New Women
The New Woman was a feminist ideal that emerged in the late 19th century. The New Woman pushed the limits set by male-dominated society, especially as modeled in the plays of Norwegian Henrik Ibsen . "The New Woman sprang fully armed from Ibsen's brain," according to a joke by Max Beerbohm...
". The use of the term is thought to have persisted in New England for several decades.
Some women did not marry because men feared educated women during the 19th century and did not wish to have them as wives. Other women did not marry because they felt they had a better connection to women than to men. Some of these women ended up living together in a same-sex household, finding this arrangement both practical and preferable to a heterosexual marriage. Of necessity, such women were generally financially independent of men, due either to family inheritance or to their own career earnings. Women who decided to be in these relationships were usually feminists, and were often involved in social betterment and cultural causes with shared values often forming a strong foundation for their lives together.
The living arrangements of a Boston Marriage helped its participants have careers. American culture of the 19th century made it very difficult for women to have careers while married to men. Wives were expected to care for their children. Society dictated that men were everything that women were not. Men were seen as taller, stronger, richer, smarter, etc., and women were seen as weak and were expected to spend most of their time and effort pleasing their husbands. Even if her husband did not treat her as inferior, society did.
Women who wanted a different, more independent life (and could afford to have one) sometimes set up households together. While the women involved may have seen their relationship as one of equals and designed their own roles, society dictated that one partner in a relationship needed to be superior. Because of this view, one woman perceived herself to be "a man trapped in a woman's body".
In comparison to heterosexual marriages, Boston Marriages at that time had many advantages, including more nurturing between partners, and greater equality in responsibilities and decision making. Women who understood the demands of a career first-hand could give each other support and sympathy when needed. These women were generally self-sufficient in their own lives, but gravitated to each other for support in an often disapproving and even hostile society.
Whether any given Boston Marriage involved sex is unknown. In a 1929 study, Katherine B. Davis reported that, of 1,200 female college graduates who talked about their sex lives, 605, or 50.4 percent, responded that they had "experienced intense emotional relations with other women", and 234, or 19.5 percent, had "intense relationships accompanied by mutual masturbation, contact of genital organs, or other expressions recognized as sexual". These women spent their lives mainly with each other. They gave their time and energy to each other. Their practical reasons for not marrying men were strong but their emotional reasons were even stronger. These relationships would probably be known as lesbian relationships now.
Many professional women may not have believed that they were making a sacrifice by remaining unmarried; some actively used a career as a reason to avoid marriage. Society did not allow married women to have what we would today consider a career, and any work they could do outside their own homes was limited to a narrow selection of fields (schoolteacher, companion to an older or invalid woman, nurse, seamstress, and similar occupations). Women who chose to have a career (doctor, scientist, professor) created a new class of women who were not dependent on men. Educated women with careers who wanted to live with other women were allowed a measure of social acceptance and freedom to arrange their own lives.
Romantic relationships were especially common among academic women of the 19th century. At many colleges, female professors were not allowed to marry conventionally and still remain part of the faculty. Academic women also broke with the social view of women as mentally inferior: such a woman was likely attracted to another woman who would recognize her intelligence, rather than a man who most likely would not. Having invested so much of their lives in scholarship, such women could find needed respect for their work and lifestyle among other academic women.
- "So, Are You Two Together?"—Ms. Magazine
Ms. is an American feminist magazine co-founded by American feminist and activist Gloria Steinem and founding editor Letty Cottin Pogrebin together with founding editors Patricia Carbine, Joanne Edgar, Nina Finkelstein, and Mary Peacock, that first appeared in 1971 as an insert in New York magazine...
article by Pagan Kennedy
Pagan Kennedy is an author and pioneer of the 1990s zine movement, along with writer/publishers like Lisa Crystal Carver of Rollerderby, Jim Goad of ANSWER Me! and Larry Crane of Tape Op. Her autobiographical zine Pagan's Head detailed her life...
- "Boston Marriage"-list of relevant articles on About.com
About.com is an online source for original information and advice. It is written in English, and is aimed primarily at North Americans. It is owned by The New York Times Company....