Boston Marriage = Lesbian Relationship?

My Wordsmith Word of the Day is “Boston Marriage”. Here’s the definition:

Boston marriage (BOS-tuhn MAR-ij, BAW-stuhn -) noun

A long-term, intimate friendship between two women, often sharing
a household.

[After Boston (and other areas in the Northeast US) where such
arrangements occurred during the 19th century. Perhaps popularized
by Henry James’s 1886 novel The Bostonians that portrayed such

“Boston marriage of Miss Woolley and Miss Marks, for example, was
intensely passionate, as their letters show.”
Elspeth Cameron; Heart to Heart; Chatelaine (Toronto, Canada); Oct 1997.

“Frances, for her part, saved her own endearments for her lifelong
friend, Mildred Minturn, with whom she had a kind of Boston marriage
at Bryn Mawr.”
The Craftsman And the Nihilist; The New Republic (Washington, DC);
Jul 4, 1994.

Does that mean a lesbian relationship or a couple of spinsters sharing a house?

“Boston Marriage”, by the way, is an OUTSTANDING PLAY by David Mamet. It was here, presented by the Guthrie Theatre, in Minneapolis this year and we certainly enjoyed it a LOT! Here’s the study guide for the play, which explains EVERYTHING you’ve ever wanted to know!

From the guide:

(with credit to the Guthrie Theatre’s study guide linked to above - a great read -, research by Jo Holcomb, Tracy Marks and Jeff Rogers, edited by Jo Holcomb.)

How interesting! I’ve never heard the term before. I’ll have to take a look at the guide. From the excerpt you provided, it sounds like they were probably lesbians, considering the time they spent together.

Well… the jury’s still out on that. Most people would like to believe that, indeed, there was likely sex involved… There are a lot of anthropological studies on the “fellowship” of women in general - our bonding with other women is quite unique.

The study guide gives as a referene a book by Lillian Faderman called “Boston Marriage”, Surpasssing the Love of Men (HarperCollins 1998)

:slight_smile: Enjoy!

How improper, to ask such a thing of those nice ladies down the street. :wink:

Well, they could still be gay without getting it on. I’m thinking more in terms of the emotional devotion described in both cites. It sounds like a true marriage in every other sense of the word.

Slight nitpick, the book is titled Surpassing the Love of Men (I’ll omit the really long subtitle) and “Boston Marriage” is a chapter in the book. The excerpt quoted from the study guide is a direct lift of the first paragraph of that chapter.

Well, you learn something new every day!

I assumed you were using the term as some sort of newfangled slang referring to Mass. recent ruling, and I rushed in here to provide cites on 19th century literature. Somehow the actual term had escaped me.


I learned about it from Xena, which also cites Surpassing the Love of Men.

I think that’s a very accurate interpretation. In Xena, the introduction of Faderman’s work was an attempt to desexualize the scholarship surrounding the show.

It’s a stretch to think every pair of women engaged in such a relationship was getting it on. It’s not a stretch to say many women probably were. Welcome to the grand world of subtext.

(I’m still recovering from finding out you’re female)

Heh. That’s OK. Eve thought I was a big redneck, ala “Foghorn Leghorn.”

Also Lillian Faderman’s “Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers”

There is a belief that many of these relationships were fully amourous lesbian ones. There is also the belief that many were sexually innocent friendships. Its hard to tell from letters - the style women used writing to a close personal friend sounds very romantic and sexual to us - and at least some of those letters we are fairly sure are innocent. i.e., I would never write, “My dearest Kalhoun, I can’t wait to see you again and hold you tight to my breast” but my great grandmother might have - in perfect innocence.

IIRC, they grew in popularity in the late 1800s - after the Civil War. Many, many men died in that war, leaving a LOT of women with no prospects for marriage. In which case, it didn’t matter if you were a lesbian or not, setting up a household with another spinster woman may have been purely survival.

One of the best-known articles in the whole discipline of US women’s history deals with nineteenth-century women’s relationships. It’s well-written, is not overly packed with jargon, and is definitely worth a look if you’re interested in this stuff.

Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, “The Female World of Love and Ritual: Relations Between Women in Nineteenth-Century America,” Signs, Vol. 1, No 1, 1975. Reprinted in in Smith-Rosenberg, Disorderly Conduct (Knopf, 1985) 53-76.

What I say what lead you to that conclusion?

There was a thread about what people thought other posters looked like. I must, I say I must admit, my name is pretty big and stupid sounding. I must say.