“Cupid Did Not Arrive with the Miasma”: Marriage in Four Mexican Parishes, 1833

Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:40 AM
Mile High Ballroom 4A (Colorado Convention Center)
Donald Fithian Stevens, Drexel University
Mexico’s first cholera epidemic provides us with an opportunity to document couples who would not ordinarily have married. Most of the time, men and women who wanted to marry were subject to premarital investigations and delays. In extraordinary circumstances, when either prospective bride or groom might die before the investigation could be completed, the Church permitted emergency marriages with only the most perfunctory questions asked. Epidemic cholera provided such circumstances, because the disease killed quickly, often within hours of the first symptoms.

Evidence suggests that emergency marriages during the cholera epidemic brought existing, though unmarried couples, into the Church, and into the historical record. In this way, the epidemic provides us with evidence that otherwise we would not have. The way information was recorded in parochial registrations of marriage varied from one parish to another, but priests often classified brides based on what they judged to be their respectability. “Doncella” implied that the bride was a virgin, while being described as “single” or “free” suggested that she was not.

As cholera began killing thousands of people in Mexico, more non-virgins married. Although priests did not describe the sexual experience of men in similar language, they did record their ages. The substantial increase in the number of older men who married during the epidemic suggests that they had been “living in sin” until their own immanent death, or that of their partner, motivated them to marry quickly. At the same time, the age differences between these men and women provide hints about the prevalence of the ideal of companionate marriage and the traditional pattern of patriarchal marriage (where the groom might be decades older than the bride).

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