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As It Was: Pioneer Weddings Could Be Spartan in Jackson County

Getting married in Southern Oregon in the 1800s didn’t always entail a church wedding.  Early settlers worked hard to make ends meet and life was spartan.  Marriage often meant stopping after a day’s work to be married by a circuit preacher and perhaps to enjoy a meal with family and friends.

Wedding dresses often reflected practicality instead of fashion.  Brides dressed in their best, which could be new or old, print or plaid, calico or wool.  When Hilda Anderson married Nels Hanson in 1894, she made a black wedding dress that could serve for other occasions.  Gifts often helped the young couple set up housekeeping, including sacks of flour, coffee, tea, wash tubs, clotheslines, pins, an axe, a broom and a mop.

The Rev. Moses Allen Williams rode horseback through Jackson County, squeezing weddings and funerals in between milking his cow and composing sermons.

A typical diary entry described riding from Medford to Jacksonville to preach at a funeral, waiting until evening to marry a young couple, then riding home to milk his cow and feed the horses.  He was in the house by 10 p.m.

Sources: Wachter, Sherry. "Calico and Pearls: Getting Married in Southern Oregon, 1850-1890." Southern Oregon Heritage Today, vol. 3, no. 12, Dec. 2001, pp. 8-12.         

Sharon Bywater of Ashland, Oregon grew up in Southern California. She taught English literature and writing at Syracuse University in New York, where she also wrote and edited adult literacy books and published freelance articles in local media. Later, she lived in Washington, D.C., where she worked as an international telecommunications policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Commerce. She has Master’s degrees in English and Communications Management.