Pregnant and unwed in colonial America – student essay

Students in SOC 2433, The Family and Society, finish the semester writing about research findings that surprised or intrigued them.  In this short essay, A.G. describes her surprised at finding that colonial America was not so different from the present.

Colonial Williamsburg: Enactment of Conditions...
Colonial Williamsburg
Image by bill barber via Flickr

“I was really startled that in colonial America, nearly a third of women were pregnant at the time of their marriage (Seccombe p78).  The textbook also states that this high percentage was most likely due to a process called bundling. ”

“During this era, men would sometimes travel from great distances to court a girl or see their fiancées.  Houses were not large back then, and there were a limited number of beds, so most times the men would sleep in the same bed as the woman they were courting, separated by a board.  The board was supposed to prevent any sexual relationships, but from the data it was not a very effective method.  I thought this was a very high number of women to be pregnant before the couple was married.  I thought that, in that time period, families were very strict and teenagers/young adults would not have been able to be sexually involved with one another.”

“My grandmother herself was pregnant before she was married and I remember her telling me that her mother was ashamed of her.  In my grandmother’s time, it was not a good thing to bring shame to your family.  Therefore, I would have thought that couples in colonial America would not want to bring shame to their families and risk becoming pregnant just for the fun of having sex.”

–A.G., SOC 2433, The Family and Society

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