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Boston marriage, in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, was an arrangement in which two women lived together, independent of any man's support. These relationships were not necessarily sexual; the existence of platonic Boston marriages was used to quell fears of lesbianism after the loss of men in World War I. Today, the term sometimes describes two women living together without a sexual relationship. Such a relationship may involve intimacy and commitment without sexuality.

Origins of the term

It seems that the term Boston marriage came into use after Henry James's book The Bostonians (1886) detailed a marriage-like relationship between two "New Women". The term Boston marriage was used in New England in the late 19th century to describe a long-term monogamous relationship between two unmarried women. Some women did not marry because men feared educated women during the 19th century and did not wish to have them as wives. Other women did not marry because they felt they had a better connection to women than to men. Some of these women ended up living together in a same-sex household, finding this arrangement both practical and preferable to a heterosexual marriage. Of necessity, such women were generally financially independent of men, due either to family inheritance or to their own career earnings. Women who decided to be in these relationships were usually feminists, and were often involved in social betterment and cultural causes. with shared values often forming a strong foundation for their lives together.


The living arrangements of a Boston Marriage helped its participants have careers. American culture of the 19th century made it very difficult for women to have careers while married to men. Wives were expected to care for their children. Society dictated that men were everything that women were not. Men were taller, older, stronger, richer, smarter, etc., and women were seen as weak and were expected to spend the majority of their time and effort pleasing their husbands. Even if her husband did not treat her as inferior, society did.

Women who wanted a different, more independent life (and could afford to do so) set up households together. While the women involved may have seen their relationship as one of equals and designed their own roles, society dictated that one partner in a relationship needed to be superior. Because of this view, one of the women was often perceived to be "a man trapped in a woman's body".

In comparison to heterosexual marriages, Boston Marriages at that time had many advantages, including more nurturing between partners, and greater equality in responsibilities and decision making. Women who understood the demands of a career first hand could give each other support and sympathy when needed. These women were generally self-sufficient in their own lives, but gravitated to each other for support in an often disapproving and even hostile society.

Modern relevance

The 1999 play Boston Marriage by David Mamet depicts such a marriage as having an explicitly sexual component. In 2004, Massachusettsmarker became the first state in the U.S. to allow legal same-sex marriages.


Whether any given Boston Marriage involved sex is unknown. In a 1929 study, Katherine B. Davis reported that, of 1,200 female college graduates who talked about their sex lives, 605, or 50.4 percent, responded that they had "experienced intense emotional relations with other woman", and 234, or 19.5 percent, had "intense relationships accompanied by mutual masturbation, contact of genital organs, or other expressions recognized as sexual". These women spent their lives mainly with each other. They gave their time and energy to each other. Their practical reasons for not marrying men were strong but their emotional reasons were even stronger. These relationships would probably be known as lesbian relationships now.

Career women

Many professional women may not have felt that they were making a sacrifice by remaining unmarried; some even actively used a career as an excuse to avoid marriage. Society did not allow for married women to have what we would today consider "a career", and any work they could do outside their own homes was limited to a narrow selection of fields (schoolteacher, companion to an older or invalid woman, nurse, seamstress, etc.). Women who chose to have a career (doctor, scientist, professor) created a new class of women who were not dependent on men. Educated women with careers who wanted to live with other women were allowed a measure of social acceptance and freedom to arrange their own lives

Romantic relationships were especially common among academic women of the 19th century. At many colleges female professors were not allowed to marry conventionally and still remain part of the faculty. Academic women also broke with the social view of women as mentally inferior: such a woman was likely attracted to another woman who would recognize her intelligence, rather than a man who most likely would not. Having invested so much of their lives in scholarship, they could find needed respect for their work and lifestyle among other academic women.

See also


  1. Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men : Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
  2. Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men : Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.
  3. Katherine, Davis B. Factors in the sex life of twenty-two hundred women. New York: Harper Brothers, 1929
  4. Faderman, Lillian. Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers : A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: Penguin (Non-Classics), 1992.
  5. Faderman, Lillian. Surpassing the Love of Men : Romantic Friendship and Love Between Women from the Renaissance to the Present. New York: HarperCollins, 2002.

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