What Is Meant By A Boston Marriage • Vowness


The concept of a “Boston marriage” is a term that originated in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, referring to the cohabitation of two wealthy women who were financially independent from men.

The phrase gained usage in New England, often describing relationships between women that, in some cases, were romantic or even considered lesbian in nature, while others were simply a strong bond of friendship and support.

Throughout history, Boston marriages have been featured in various literary works, shedding light on the unique nature of these relationships.

While some of these relationships were characterized by a deep emotional and intellectual connection, others might have been motivated by economic or social reasons.

As times have changed, contemporary perspectives on Boston marriages have evolved, making the concept an intriguing mirror to societal views on gender, sexuality, and relationships.

Key Takeaways

  • Boston marriages refer to the cohabitation of two financially independent women historically
  • Some Boston marriages were romantic or lesbian relationships, while others were based on friendships and support
  • Over time, contemporary perspectives on Boston marriages highlight changing societal views on relationships and sexuality

Origins of Boston Marriage

The concept of a Boston marriage refers to a long-term, loving relationship between two women.

While such relationships have likely existed for centuries, the specific term “Boston marriage” emerged in the 19th century.

It is commonly believed that the term originates from the 1886 novel The Bostonians by Henry James, which detailed a marriage-like relationship between two women.

Before the term “Boston marriage” was coined, there were notable examples of women living together in close, committed relationships.

One famous example is the Ladies of Llangollen, Lady Eleanor Butler and Sarah Ponsonby, who lived together in a formalized romantic friendship.

Their life partnership became well-known in England and other European countries, predating the use of the term “Boston marriage.”

Throughout the 19th century, Boston marriages gained more recognition, with several prominent examples capturing public attention.

Among these examples are the relationships between Longfellow’s friend Annie Fields and her partner, Sarah Orne Jewett, who are said to have inspired James’ The Bostonians.

Significance in Literature

What is the meaning of Boston marriage?

Henry James

Henry James, a prominent American author, played a significant role in bringing the concept of a Boston marriage to the forefront of literature.

His novel The Bostonians (1886) is a prime example of this. The story revolves around two main female characters, Olive Chancellor and Verena Tarrant, who share a close relationship.

While it is not explicitly stated that they are involved in a Boston marriage, their emotional bond and dependency on each other hints at the possibility.

James’ portrayal of these two women illuminated the societal complexities of their time, where women began gaining more opportunities outside of the home, such as education and careers.

The novel touches on themes like the evolving roles of women and the intricacies of relationships not typically depicted in literature during this era.

The Bostonians

David Mamet, an American playwright, further explored the concept of a Boston marriage in his play titled “Boston Marriage” (1999).

Set in the Victorian era, the play features two women, Anna and Claire, who live together without any financial or emotional dependence on men.

Their witty banter and complexities of their relationship showcase the various aspects of a Boston marriage.

Mamet’s play brings forth the nuance of Boston marriages, providing insights into the social dynamics at play during this time.

Through the character development and storylines, readers and audiences can grasp the notion of Boston marriages as meaningful, long-term relationships between women that offer companionship, support, and emotional connection.

In both Henry James’ The Bostonians and David Mamet’s “Boston Marriage,” the significance of these relationships in literature is evident.

They shed light on the different paths women could choose and the ways in which they could shape their lives outside traditional expectations.

The contributions of these literary works to the understanding of Boston marriages continue to impact how we perceive and discuss relationships today.

Characteristics of a Boston Marriage

Emotional Intimacy

A Boston Marriage refers to a committed relationship between two women, often involving a deep emotional connection and friendship.

These romantic friendships were characterized by their emotional intimacy, with the women involved sharing not only their lives but also their feelings, thoughts, and experiences.

The emotional bond formed between the women in a Boston Marriage was often stronger than typical friendships, creating a profound sense of trust and understanding.

Female Independence

Women in Boston Marriages were generally financially independent, allowing them to live together and support one another without relying on men for financial stability.

This independence was often achieved through family inheritance or career earnings.

As a result, the women in these relationships enjoyed a level of autonomy and freedom uncommon for their time, enabling them to make decisions about their lives without the constraints of traditional gender roles and expectations.

Negotiation and Conflict Resolution

As any committed relationship, Boston Marriages also faced challenges and conflicts.

Given the unique nature of these partnerships, the women involved needed to develop their own strategies for negotiation, compromise, and reconciliation.

This often included openly discussing their feelings, needs, and desires, as well as addressing any disagreements or misunderstandings that arose within the relationship.

Through their commitment to emotional intimacy, financial independence, and effective conflict resolution, women in Boston Marriages forged lasting and meaningful relationships with one another.

These relationships provided a supportive and empowering alternative to traditional marriage structures of the time.

Sexual Orientation in Boston Marriages

Why were Boston marriages important?

Lesbian Relationship

A Boston marriage, historically, referred to the cohabitation of two wealthy women who did not rely on financial support from a man.

Some of these relationships were romantic in nature and can be considered lesbian relationships today.

These romantic and sometimes erotic connections allowed women to build strong emotional bonds and live together as committed partners, though they were not always openly acknowledged as such during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Heterosexual and Platonic Relationships

However, not all Boston marriages were exclusively lesbian relationships. Many of these partnerships were between heterosexual women as well, who chose to live together for various reasons.

Some women found solace and strength in forging deep, platonic friendships with other women, leading to long-lasting and emotionally supportive relationships.

Such romantic friendships were accepted as a natural part of women’s social lives and were not necessarily considered an indication of homosexuality.

Boston marriages allowed women to foster relationships where they could share resources, companionship, and emotional intimacy.

These arrangements enabled them to gain more agency over their lives and assert greater independence.

Notable Boston Marriages

Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith

Jane Addams, a social activist and founder of Hull House, and Mary Rozet Smith, a philanthropist, shared a close relationship that lasted over four decades.

Although the nature of their relationship is still debated by historians, it is often considered a prime example of a Boston marriage.

They were both influential figures in their time, with Addams being an important leader in the American settlement house movement and Smith contributing significantly to the Hull House as well as to philanthropic work.

The two women shared a deep bond and lived together for several years.

They considered their relationship to be like a marriage and maintained it even when apart through frequent correspondence.

Their partnership greatly impacted their work, and together they played a crucial role in pushing forward social reforms and improving living conditions for thousands of people in the United States.

Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields

Sarah Orne Jewett, a prominent American author, and Annie Adams Fields, a literary figure and wife of publisher James T. Fields, formed one of the most well-known Boston marriages in American history.

Following the death of her husband, Fields and Jewett became inseparable, sharing a home for more than two decades.

Their relationship was characterized by mutual support, intellectual exchange, and emotional intimacy.

Jewett’s literary career flourished during her relationship with Fields, who encouraged and supported her work.

Fields herself was an accomplished writer and editor, who wrote poetry, essays, and biographies of other prominent women.

They were active in social and cultural circles, hosting salons and gatherings in their home where they would entertain guests and discuss literature, politics, and social issues.

Both relationships – Jane Addams and Mary Rozet Smith, as well as Sarah Orne Jewett and Annie Adams Fields – showcase the significance and impact of Boston marriages in shaping the lives and achievements of the women involved.

These partnerships allowed them to live independent and fulfilling lives, while also contributing to important social and cultural developments in American history.

Wellesley Marriage

A Wellesley marriage refers to a close, intimate relationship between two women who attended Wellesley College, a historically women’s college.

These relationships were similar to Boston marriages, as they involved a deep emotional bond and companionship.

Romantic friendships were common among college-educated women in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, providing mutual support and intellectual stimulation.

However, not all Wellesley marriages involved romantic or sexual elements, and some were simply deep friendships between women sharing a common academic background.

New Women

The concept of the New Woman emerged in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as a response to the changing social and cultural landscape.

New Women were characterized by their desire for independence, education, and professional careers – values which challenged traditional gender roles and expectations.

Boston marriages, along with romantic friendships and Wellesley marriages, were connected to this broader movement of women pushing for greater autonomy and equal rights.

By forming these close relationships, women could pursue their passions, build careers, and engage with intellectual and political spheres outside the confines of a traditional marriage.

Same-Sex Marriage

While the term “Boston marriage” and its related concepts primarily refer to historical relationships between women, the idea of a committed, long-term partnership between two people of the same sex has clear connections to modern same-sex marriage.

As societies have become more accepting of LGBTQ+ individuals and their rights, the way we understand and define relationships has evolved.

Today, same-sex couples can legally marry in many countries, including the United States and numerous European nations, allowing them the same legal rights and societal recognition as opposite-sex couples.

In this context, the historical Boston marriage can be seen as an important precursor to contemporary same-sex marriages, highlighting the long-standing need for emotional and intellectual companionship between individuals, regardless of their gender or sexuality.

Contemporary Perspectives

Evolution of the Term

A Boston marriage historically referred to the cohabitation of two wealthy women, independent of financial support from a man.

The term is said to have been in use in New England during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Some of these relationships were romantic in nature and might now be considered lesbian relationships; others were not.

In the 20th and 21st centuries, the term “Boston marriage” experienced a resurgence in public consciousness, primarily as a descriptor for women living in a marriage-like relationship.

However, with the legalization of marriage for same-sex couples, the term is being used less frequently for current relationships and is mostly applied in a historical context.

When was the Boston marriage?

Relationship with Modern Same-Sex Relationships

While the concept of a Boston marriage shares similarities with modern same-sex relationships, particularly lesbian relationships, there are important distinctions to be made.

Unlike the traditional Boston marriage, contemporary same-sex couples enjoy legal and social recognition, allowing for greater rights and protections.

Furthermore, the evolving societal understanding and acceptance of diverse relationship structures contribute to a broader range of relationship dynamics for lesbian couples in the 21st century.

Final Thoughts

The term “Boston marriage” has evolved from its historical origins to face an ever-changing cultural and legal landscape.

The contemporary understanding of the term is largely informed by its relationship with modern same-sex relationships, as well as the shift in societal perception of diverse relationship structures.

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