Morehead State University

Poster Title

What They Said About Her: Images of Womanhood in the 19th Century Press

Institution

Morehead State University

Abstract

Using the case study method, this project explored images of women in the 19th century press. The focus of this study was Miss Martha Butman who was scheduled to marry Dr. R. C. Rutherford in Milan, Ohio, on March 4, 1851. Instead of saying "I do" at the appropriate moment, Miss Butman left a jilted groom standing at the altar in a pre-meditated plan where she was escorted out of the church by another gentleman. This incident was debated in the local and regional press for one month as newspaper editors became stage managers in an unfolding drama. We know about this incident today because of what other people wrote about the bride in the press and because a small collection of letters written to Miss Butman by her fiancé, other suitors and family members have survived. This study examined what other people said about and to Miss Butman in an attempt to understand why this incident drew so much social outcry and media attention. In addition, the study examined how state laws relating to marriage and divorce may have impacted the bride's decision to avoid matrimony in order to protect her upper-class financial status. Customs relating to dress attire are also explored since one wedding guest observed that Miss Butman's "bridal gown" with feathers and a plunging neckline looked more like a "party dress." The challenge of this project was to understand the subject even though no records in her own words have survived.

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What They Said About Her: Images of Womanhood in the 19th Century Press

Using the case study method, this project explored images of women in the 19th century press. The focus of this study was Miss Martha Butman who was scheduled to marry Dr. R. C. Rutherford in Milan, Ohio, on March 4, 1851. Instead of saying "I do" at the appropriate moment, Miss Butman left a jilted groom standing at the altar in a pre-meditated plan where she was escorted out of the church by another gentleman. This incident was debated in the local and regional press for one month as newspaper editors became stage managers in an unfolding drama. We know about this incident today because of what other people wrote about the bride in the press and because a small collection of letters written to Miss Butman by her fiancé, other suitors and family members have survived. This study examined what other people said about and to Miss Butman in an attempt to understand why this incident drew so much social outcry and media attention. In addition, the study examined how state laws relating to marriage and divorce may have impacted the bride's decision to avoid matrimony in order to protect her upper-class financial status. Customs relating to dress attire are also explored since one wedding guest observed that Miss Butman's "bridal gown" with feathers and a plunging neckline looked more like a "party dress." The challenge of this project was to understand the subject even though no records in her own words have survived.