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What is A Boston Marriage?

Updated on August 17, 2014

What is a Boston Marriage?

To put it quite simply a Boston marriage is the term used for two women who share a house together as if they were a married couple.

Although the term sounds like it may be a lesbian relationship between the two women this was not always the case.

The term "A Boston marriage" was thought to have begun in the 19th century in New England and was used to describe two women who lived in the same household financially independent of a man.

The women would share all of the responsibilities of running a home together like man and wife but it wasn't always the case that they shared the same bed.

The Bostonians

A portrait of Authour Henry James who wrote the Bostonians.
A portrait of Authour Henry James who wrote the Bostonians. | Source

History Of A Boston Marriage

The term A Boston Marriage was first coined in a book called the Bostonians, by Henry James published in 1886, in the book the term is used to describe a co-habiting long-term relationship between two women.

In the book two women, Verena Tarrant and Olive Chancellor meet at a feminist gathering and decide to set up a home together.

The book goes on to explore feminism and the general role of women in society.

There are hints in the book that suggest that Olive may have sexual feelings for Verena but that avenue is never fully explored by the author.

A Convenient Marriage

Most of the women who lived together in a Boston marriage did so out of convenience for many reasons.

  • Career: In those days if a woman was married to a man the woman's role was at home looking after the house and any children they may have. A married woman would rarely be allowed to have a career even if she had educational qualifications.
  • Feminism: The feminist movement encouraged women to live together as a way of showing that women did not need a man to be financially independent and successful.
  • Equality: Women who lived together considered themselves equal partners in the relationship, something the would not be able to have if they were married to a man.
  • Freedom: Women wanted the freedom to arrange their own lives rather than have a man dictate the course of their exictance.

Although most Boston Marriages were looked down on by society in those days some were deemed acceptable especially when the couples were women in the academic world, Women Proffesors in colleges and universities would be forced to give up their jobs if they ever married.

Boston Marriage... an introduction

A Boston Marriage The Stage Play

The term "A Boston Marriage" went out of fashion for a while until a play with the same name came out in the year 2000, written by David Mamet.

The comedy play is set in a Victorian drawing room and is centered around the lives of Claire and Anna who in those days are living in what was called "A Boston Marriage" The women now hitting middle age have moved in different directions.

Anna is in a relationship with a wealthy married man and is a kept woman. Claire has set her sights on a relationship with a younger woman and has come to ask if she can use Anna's house to be with her.

It turns out that the young lady that Claire is wooing is the daughter of the wealthy man that Anna is seeing and the necklace that Anna wears was once worn by the young girls mother.

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Same Sex Marriage

The term "A Boston Marriage" has a slightly different meaning these days, although it still refers to living together in the same house like a married couple it is not only a term used for women living together but for men.

A Boston Marriage is a couple of the same sex who live together in the same house as if they were a married couple.

Society has changed a lot over the years and has become a bit more relaxed about same sex relationships although the debate goes on and on about whether people of the same gender should be allowed to be legaly married to each other.

People of the same sex have been sharing homes like married couples for centuries maybe it's time that they should be allowed to marry and share the same legal rights as any married couple after all love is love no matter who or what you are.


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    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 

      6 years ago from Central New Jersey

      Actually, the term started being used in the late 19th century because during the American Civil War( which ended in 1865) close to 25% of the nation's young men died ( either in battle, from wounds or from disease) which left a lot of young women , particularly in New England where the men had joined the Union Army in droves, without husbands in a day and age when nice women had few alternatives to marriage. I didn't know that Henry James used the term, but that doesn't surprise me. Interessting hub Jimmy and a very enjoyable read. Thumbs up.

    • rfmoran profile image

      Russ Moran - The Write Stuff 

      6 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Very well done. One of the benefits of Hubpages is that one learns something new every day. I never heard of a Boston Marriage before.

    • jimmythejock profile imageAUTHOR

      James Paterson 

      6 years ago from Scotland

      A Boston Marriage is something I heard about only just recently and I thought it would make for an interesting Hub, thanks for your visit and comments guys this is one hub I really enjoyed researching and writing.....jimmy

    • twinstimes2 profile image

      Karen Lackey 

      6 years ago from Ohio

      I learned something as well. I have never heard this terms. Thanks for the lesson!

    • TToombs08 profile image

      Terrye Toombs 

      6 years ago from Somewhere between Heaven and Hell without a road map.

      Very interesting stuff, Jimmy. I'm with the others, never heard the term but find it fascinating. Thank you for enlightening us. :) Voted up and more.

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judi Brown 

      6 years ago from UK

      Like Susan, I've never heard of this expression before, so thanks for teaching me something today. I shall see where I can work it into a conversation tomorrow!

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Learn something new everyday. I'd never heard of this term before. Really interesting. I'd love to see that play. Sounds like it would be quite funny.


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