Monday, August 09, 2010

Unknown Chicago: Are You Ready For Marriage?

Just over 110 years ago (8-9-1899) the situation for young people who want to think about marriage was quite different. These days generally young people are hesitant or they don't make the leap at all. And it would be very different if we did a similar survey today and they interviewed more than retail clerks.

This survey with one simple question, "Should men who earn small salaries be allowed to marry?", was conducted by the Tribune way back in 1899 according to the ChicagoNow history blog Unknown Chicago 
Most of the female clerks felt a man needed a certain minimum salary before getting married.  The general consensus was at least $15 a week ($375 in 2010-dollars--for current values of 1899-dollars, multiply by 25).  "A young man should wait until he is able to support a wife," one woman said.  "No salegirl wants to keep selling after she's married."

A Carson's clerk was willing to make exceptions.  A man making only $9 a week might have "the possibilities of greatness" in him.  In that case, the potential wife should overlook his current situation, trusting her instinct--and her heart.  "[Why should she] discard him and his $9 if she loved him?" the Carson's clerk asked.

The male clerks were also divided on the money question.  Some said it was okay to get married on a low salary--if the woman was willing, why not?  Other men weren't so sure.  A clerk at Marshall Field's feared a couple on a tight budget couldn't afford to live in the city.  Then they might have to move to the suburbs!
Different times indeed. It seems many want to get out of Chicago today. Especially if you have no faith that the city can't handle it's violence problem.

It was also noted that these senior retail clerks in the Loop felt it was their duty to discourage their younger coworkers from marrying so soon. Now there's something familiar I can point to on that these days. Sometimes you need the older men to tell you about these things, although hey you maybe young it's still your decision.

Here's another thing of note!
The Tribune also talked to three "sociological students."  All three were women.  All three were in favor of early marriage.

One of these scholars was Mrs. A.P. Stevens of Hull House.  She claimed that matrimony was being delayed because employers didn't pay a living wage.  "Every salesman or laborer has a right to be paid enough to support a wife and maintain a home to American standards," said Stevens.
Well we're not having this debate over taking care of a spouse. Especially since here in Chicago we're getting more Wal-Marts now finally after this debate over whether or not Wal-Mart should pay their employees a "living wage". Of course this is less about supporting a spouse than it is paying rent, buying food, paying utilities, owning a car, or even for single parents taking care of the children.

Still even though I have this belief that today's young people are more apt to push back marriage for a variety of reasons, the average age for marriage is 22 for women and 26 for me. Just as it was back in 1899!

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