Making a Match in Nineteenth-Century New York: The Courtship Diary of Mary Guion

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Arts and Humanities | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History | History of Gender | United States History | Women's History | Women's Studies


Frank, acerbic, and detailed, the 1800-52 diary of Mary Guion (1782-1871) provides historians an unusual window on the early national period. Begun when Guion was seventeen, it grew to 387 pages; with 340 of those pages focusing on her search for a husband between 1800 and 1807, it is primarily a courtship diary. Her journal chronicles the daily life of an upper middle class woman in North Castle, Westchester County, New York: friends entertained, balls attended, books read, things bought, work done, and, most prominently, suitors pondered. The content initially seems to feature what a contemporary called "Triffles." But Guion was chronicling no trivial subject. On the contrary, she faced women's most critical question: whom would she marry? At a time in which common law gave husbands control of family property and divorce was socially disapproved and extremely difficult to obtain, women needed to choose a spouse with great caution. Well aware that either "happiness or misery" would result from her choice, Guion wrote with a sense that this was a significant period of her life which deserved detailed documentation.