The Ties that Bind: A History of Wedlock explores how items like wedding garments, photographs, invitations, and legal documents such as licenses and certificates, reveal the customs and traditions that continue to evolve around marriage.
Once considered a rite of passage, the typical marriage of today does not look much like it did a hundred years ago. Change seemed to be put in motion with Queen Victoria’s choice to wear a white dress at her wedding to Prince Albert on February 10, 1840. With new publications for women, such as Godey’s, reporting on the queen’s fashionable wedding, the white wedding soon became the norm. The royal family continued to shape customs with the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter Victoria, who introduced choral music to the processional when standard practice had been to have music only during a party after the ceremony.
In 2011 Forbes Inc reports that the wedding industry has boomed to an over 60 billion dollar industry, resulting in many changes to the customs surrounding wedlock. The 2.1 million weddings held in the United States each year, with an average cost of over $27,000, have created a demand for new professions to create that special day. Even as sociologists provide data showing the inverse relationship of the cost of a wedding and success in marriage, there seems to be no end to creating the perfect celebration.
As the legality and what constitutes marriage is being defined by the state and federal courts, new marital practices are emerging. Since 1996 when President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law (DOMA), the topic has remained in the forefront of debate.
The Ties that Bind brings together artifacts from the museum’s collection, historical data and even cultural references to illustrate this age old ritual and the need to be united. Included in the exhibit are wedding garments for both men and women, invitations, and photographs displayed alongside a timeline defining milestones in the history of wedlock.
Research assistance provided by WIU History student, David Heusel, and Professor Carmen Keist. Thank you to the McDonough County Genealogical Society and the Western Illinois Archives and Special Collections for sharing their holdings.
On view February 9 through June 25, 2016