During the Second World War there was a sudden increase in the number of weddings. Unsure of what the future held and anxious to formalise their relationships – and perhaps in need of some hope and joy – men and women overcame the obstacles of bombs and rationing with ingenuity on their way to the altar.
In 1942 alone, 1.8 million weddings took place, up 83 percent from 10 years before. And two-thirds of those brides were marrying men newly enlisted in the military.In 1944, a church pastor in the United States even wrote, “Marriage Is a Serious Business,” a book for young couples in which he warned, “The hasty marriage, caused by glamour and excitement rather than by genuine affection, is one of the evil products of war.”
While wartime romance continued to win out, the pomp of the ceremony was rarely the point. Often small wedding cakes were baked with rationed ingredients, and brides were wearing modest, nontraditional dresses, some even made of silk from the parachutes that had saved their grooms in battle.
A good example is Theodora Roosevelt’s wedding to an artist. She was the granddaughter of former President Theodore Roosevelt, and a cousin of Eleanor Roosevelt. In June 1945, The New York Times reported that the couple had “dispensed with attendants” in a ceremony “witnessed only by immediate relatives.” The bride wore “a brown faille suit, and straw hat with brown veiling,” instead of a typical wedding gown.
During wartime, weddings often needed to be planned quickly, as grooms in the military had be ready to leave on a moments notice if they get called into duty. Weddings often happened in hometowns when the soldier was on leave, or in chapels on military bases when the bride-to-be visits the groom-to-be. Many brides, unable to be with their new husbands due to military orders, often moved back home with their parents to work. As men marched off to war, women were left to take care of homes and businesses and fill war-time jobs in industries to support war effort. This led to a new found independence and many concerns about women in the workforce straining marriages.
With the rise in fast weddings came a sharp spike in divorce rates after the war. The quick rise in divorce rates had many possible causes, the most obvious being a lack of foundation. Since men were marrying women they barely knew before going off to war, there was little time to build a relationship leading to infidelity on both accounts: men yielding to prostitution and women abandoning their husbands for lovers they met in their husbands’ absences. If they did manage to stay together until the end of the war, there was estrangement due to separation to deal with upon men returning. As well, women had been enjoying their independence in their husbands’ absences and some were unwilling to relinquish the freedom. The perception of divorce was also changing with the generations meaning had became more acceptable to separate from a spouse. For all of these reasons and more, those quick marriages before the war also ended with the war.
Yet for all the problems, roughly 75% of the marriages continued after the war. What had begun as a reaction to the war would create a generation of people who would go on to have a profound and lasting effect on the modern world.
We hope you will enjoy these photographs of wartime weddings during World War 2.