Random Images: Pity the Child Bride

(Last Updated On May 13, 2020)

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?

The Pittsburgh Press – ‘Homer Peel, 34, Kisses His 12-Year-Old Bride Geneva On The Steps Of A Tennessee Courthouse’ (April 19, 1937)

This item was found on a historical website called Flashbak that documents interesting and unusual news stories.

14 thoughts on “Random Images: Pity the Child Bride

  1. Here in Mexico underage marriage was so common during the years of Mexican Revolution and even about half the last century.
    Once a friend of mine (a mature lady in her last fifties) told me that her late mother had got married at 13 with a 23 yo young man because of leaving some terrrible home conditions of poverty and home violence.
    She came to live at a worst place with alcoholism of both her father-in-law and her new husband. At 15 she had got already two children- one of them the lady that told me this story. Her husband used to tie her to a horse saddle and then let the horse run to take her fallen in the streets till he wanted to stop it.
    Her home violence and abuse marriage finished only till her death.
    And nowadays some prepubescent girls here go to live with a much older boyfriend -five or even ten years older- and even the guy goes to live at her home with them (usually with her parent’s consent even the girl is at school yet!)) And the girls allege that love does not know about age differences…..
    I do not understand this.

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