Writing a column each week since 2001 with fresh material is challenging. Besides focusing on new topics, there is the challenge of assuring that the content is neither a risk nor a violation of the family values and tenets of The Philadelphia Tribune Media Company. I have managed to stay clear of subjects that are controversial with the help of my wife who does the first edit of my material. Today, however, I am going down a path that may be somewhat controversial. My wife and others viewed the subject as acceptable since it is in keeping with lifestyles of the past.
So, where am I going? It is a practice that occurred in many families in the past. The issue involves young boys and girls in intimate relationships which results in the impending birth of a child. While there were alternatives to such situations, one popular solution seems to have disappeared in today’s environment. So, what happened to “shotgun weddings,” from back in the day?
Readers may have differing views on the meaning of a shotgun wedding. I had a discussion with a fraternity brother’s neighbor, whose parents had a shotgun wedding, and he indicated that his parents rushed off to get married when they learned that his father was going to be drafted into military service. He thought that shotgun weddings were marriages done quickly, marriages that were rushed. Those from my era recognize that this description does not comport with shotgun weddings of the past. Yes, they typically occurred quickly but with one factor that is a major issue in such weddings. Let us make certain that we are all on the same page regarding shotgun weddings.
An internet search provides considerable information about shotgun weddings. They all explain such unions in a similar manner that was consistent with how I view them. Shotgun weddings, for those that did not grow up back in the 50s, are weddings that are forced by the parents of a couple when the female is pregnant. No shotgun is involved in the wedding, but a look at the history of shotgun weddings reveal that shotguns were often a critical element to facilitate the wedding.
Merriam-Webster defines a shotgun wedding as “a marriage forced or required because of pregnancy.” There was a time giving birth and rearing a child without first marrying the father of the child was a “no-no.” In many instances, the female lacked the resources to care for and rear the child. We also recognize that it was a stigma for a couple to be in a situation where an unmarried mother gives birth to a child; a situation usually frowned upon. Young ladies, who found themselves in these situations, quite often went south, gave birth to the child, and returned home with the child who was reared by another family member.
While I have no empirical data to support the following contention, some, if not many, shotgun weddings came about as family members wanted the child to be born with the last name of the father. There was a time when the last name of the father could be placed on the birth certificate of the child when the father actually signed the document, thus acknowledging that he was the father of the child. Not many men were willing to “step-up to the plate” to do this. It is believed that this practice ended with the advent of the “women’s liberation movement,” that came about, back in the day.
While the true origins of shotgun weddings are absent of credible research, the site “Yahoo Answers” provides some interesting beliefs with regard to how they came about. Laurie Tomchak posted on this site that shotgun weddings originated in the Smokey Mountains of Kentucky during the era of the Hatfields and MacCoys. It is alleged that a young Hatfield got a young and attractive MacCoy pregnant, and the only way that the young Hatfield would go to the altar was at the end of a shotgun. Whether it was Hatfield and MacCoy or some other couple, I trust that you understand that a shotgun wedding did not necessarily mean that a father or relative is present at the ceremony brandishing a shotgun. It is a term used in instances when a man was coerced into marrying a pregnant woman to maintain the dignity of the woman; to prevent the woman from becoming an unmarried mother and bringing shame to her family.
The concept of a shotgun wedding is not as popular today as in the past. Many women conceive a child today with no plans to get married. Changes in the moral fabric of today’s society have eliminated the shame that went with having a child out of wedlock. Furthermore, females today have far more resources than in the past to rear a child on their own. I should also point out that it is illegal today to force a marriage under gunpoint.
Understand that a shotgun wedding is not peculiar to the United States or to any particular ethnic group. All countries have their versions of such unions. But, it is primarily an American colloquialism used in the stereotypical scenario where the father of the pregnant woman threatens the man to follow-through with marriage.
Forced marriages due to pregnancies remain today but they do not fit the traditional pattern of shotgun weddings. We know that all marriages that are consummated by following the traditional path to marriage do not always result in the couple living until death do them part. Nor do families headed by an unwed mother fail, as many do quite well with children growing up in loving and wholesome family environments. I have no empirical data that addresses the survival rate for shotgun wedding marriages. But, given the dysfunctional nature of too many households with a single parent, it is just my thought that a better way of life for some families could possibly result by returning to shotgun weddings, as my generation remember them, back in the day.
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