An important movement in the effort to stop the sexual exploitation of children was in the Unites States in the 1930s. In rural areas, it was not uncommon for girls to marry at very young ages, much earlier than what we would consider the age of consent. The moral crusades to stop such practices were exemplified in films like Child Bride (1938) starring Shirley Mills (which will be reviewed here at some point). Besides having a controversial plot to get people into the theaters, it was also a form of propaganda showing how backward and ignorant these people were.
What is often forgotten is how marriageable age and life span tend to be linked. In an age of prosperity and creature comforts, people lived longer, and marriage could be put off to allow some enjoyment of the pleasures of life. But life in the Appalachian “hollers” was a rough one and the priority of marriage was not so much to validate the love between a man and a woman, but a household arrangement that would allow the couple and their family to survive. Any man capable of making a good living was quite desirable and families with daughters would hedge their bets—and save money—by marrying off their girls to such men early. I suppose there are many who would speculate about the sexual standards of these arrangements, but even more important was the ability and willingness of girls to manage the household while the husband was working on the family farm, ranch or other business—it was a popular stereotype to regard them all as moonshiners.
With all that being said, I present a news item discovered by an associate. It includes a photo of a man kissing his 12-year-old wife but tells the story of how they were married when she was 10 and the man’s efforts to have the girl adopted properly through the system bureaucracy. Given the circumstances, the courts actually upheld the legitimacy of this marriage. So what is the real cause for our pity: that a girl should marry at such a young age or that in such a prosperous nation, so many people must live these hard lives?
This item was found on a historical website called Flashbak that documents interesting and unusual news stories.