Although people were marrying more for love in the 1850s, courtship and marriage were still considered primarily a career move for young men since a woman’s property reverted to him upon marriage under the law of femme covert. This meant that young men, like Thomas Everett, took courting and courtship very seriously. The proper young woman that would make a suitable wife would be dutiful, trained in singing, piano, and dancing and skilled in the art of conversation (and silence). In the 1850s, art was introduced into women’s education as a kind of finishing school that provided young women training in elocution, literature, singing, and the French language.
Middle class courtship rituals happened slowly in well-known steps. Couple began with speaking, moved on to walking out together, and then spent time together after the couple confirmed their mutual attraction. When a couple reached the stage of spending time together social rules were still kept, such as walking apart when out. The couple could not touch one another and the gentleman could only offer his hand if they reached the rough patch in a road. Once a serious relationship was firmly established, engagement was certain to follow.
Once an engagement was established, couples were allowed to become more intimate with each other. The young couple could hold hands in public, walk together unchaperoned, and even have a chaste kiss.
17 January 1852: “But the boys [her sons, Tom and Percy] set the storm at defiance last night and took Lov and S. E. Greene to a dancing party. They have been taking lessons in dancing all winter and can now waltz, polk, and schottish as well as anybody.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
Although it was unusual, some engagements did not result in a marriage of the two lovers. Unfortunately, the young woman suffered a loss of reputation and embarrassment and legal action of “breach of promise” could be brought against the man who broke off the engagement in an effort to regain her reputation and the money spent on a wedding. In February 1854, Thomas Everett was experiencing a whirlwind of engagements around him. He jokes in a letter to Otis Blake that Otis is lucky to be in India and away from it all because he “hardly dare to look at a young lady now for fear she will sue me for ‘breach of promise,’ and I verily shake in my shoes from the thought that my turn must come soon.” Perhaps he wasn’t so afraid, as he became engaged to Sarah Elizabeth Greene the very next month as told to Otis Blake by his mother.
30 March 1854: “Now for a new engagement!!! Guess who it is; don’t turn over the paper to see the name, until you are satisfied[…]” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
Thomas and Sarah Greene were married 19 October 1854. Although we don’t know the details of their wedding because the letter describing the wedding day is lost, there are traditions and customs in Victorian Era that were probably followed. After announcing their engagement and choosing their wedding day, Sarah Elizabeth Greene probably began planning her trousseau, which included her wedding dress and various needs to begin housekeeping.
“[…]that you have guessed right. It is your brother Tom to Sarah Greene. Now clap your hands and hurra that you are to have a sister, and I a daughter. Tom could not have chosen one that father and I should have liked better, for we know her so perfectly and know that she will make him just as good a wife in adversity as prosperity. She is well educated, accomplished, and a good housekeeper, and always good-natured and happy. Most of the young ladies of the present day have too much of the butterfly about them, but Sarah has the solid as well as the showy points, and is one that will wear well.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
1 October 1854: “Tom’s affairs progress finely. Mrs. G., Sarah Lizzie, and myself have spent all this week in furniture ware-rooms,[…]” Image courtesy of South End Historical Society.
Thomas and Sarah’s new home in Roxbury was being prepared for them as they were readying themselves for the wedding. The Everetts and the Blakes had a hand in making sure it was equipped with the newest inventions for the young couple.
“[…]and have selected the prettiest, the cheapest, the most convenient, and the most suitable articles which they contained to furnish the St. James Street house, and when you see it I think you will say so. And what is best of all, the sum total will be less than the appropriation. Don’t you call that good management? The house has two parlours, a library and a dining room on the first floor. On the second, three large and two small chambers, two good attics, and on the ground floor a kitchen, large pantry, and a first rate cellar. The ground slopes so much from the front that the kitchen is even with the garden back of the house. The prospect from all the back windows is beautiful. It is a small, modest, unpretending, but genteel looking establishment, but quite large enough for new beginners.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
18 August 1854: “Dear Otis, I need not tell you how much delighted we were to receive your letter of 12th June, speaking of Thomas’s engagement. I knew it would please you, and as you know more and more of Sarah as a sister, why you will like her better and better. She is so easy and home-like that I expect we shall soon forget that she was not born one of our family. The preparations are going on for the wedding, and the house is being made ready. This week they are putting in the gas fixtures, tho’ the gas is not quite ready for distribution in Roxbury, but father thought it best to be already for it before they moved in, and they will probably be supplied with it in the course of the winter.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
The couple usually left for their honeymoon after their wedding breakfast. Although we don’t know where Thomas and Sarah went, we do know they took a honeymoon. Elizabeth remarks to Otis Blake that the family went to Thomas and Sarah’s new home to welcome them back.
14 November 1854: “Tom and Sarah returned from their journey last week and we were all out to the house to welcome them, about 30 of us, uncles, aunts, and cousins, among them Uncle Williams. We had tea all ready for them and had quite a merry time. Last week Mr. Lyman sent Tom an elegant silver pitcher marked ‘TBE from GTL.’ Frank Hodgkinson goes in often to see them and seems to feel as much interest in their housekeeping as they do themselves.” Image courtesy of the South End Historical Society.
Next: Louisa Everett, 1832-1840