A “Boston marriage” in St. Paul, Minnesota

Click here to view it larger.

What it is:

Cabinet card measuring slightly more than 5.25 x 7.25 inches.

What I know about it:

Photographer is N. A. Giguer of Saint Paul, Minnesota.  Otherwise undated and unidentified.


A few years ago, the theater I worked for did a production of David Mamet’s play Boston Marriage, about a lesbian couple around the turn of the last century (I think we set it in the 1890s).  Although it was set in Boston, the term “Boston marriage” refers more generally to two women living together, an arrangement that allowed single women of independent means to move out of their homes in an arrangement that was socially acceptable without requiring the support of men.  (It’s thought that the reference to Boston stems from the Henry James novel The Bostonians, which featured such a couple.)  While such arrangements were not presumed to be romantic, they were a perfect cover for relationships that were, as with this play.  When the theater needed a vintage photo for publicity, I went onto eBay and swiped a few possible images.  Our webmaster, quite correctly, refused to use any without copyright permission.  So I went back to eBay, picked this one, bought it, and told the webmaster to go ahead and use it.  This image (minus the border) thus gained a new life on the website and on all the postcards that were mailed out.   And at $25, it became the most expensive single photo in my collection (my single photo limit being $10).  I feel it was worth it, though.  As for the actual ladies in this photo, I don’t really know who they were or what their relationship was.  They look like a pair of brides with their affectionate pose in their matching white dresses and corsages.  Perhaps they are brides from a double wedding posing without their grooms?  Perhaps it’s some other sort of occasion altogether?  Perhaps they are sisters or some other relations?  It’s hard to say what they may have meant to each other.  But I think it’s a lovely image in any case.

18 comments on “A “Boston marriage” in St. Paul, Minnesota”

  1. Beautiful image and a wonderful history. You really have given new life to this photo. Could you link it to an image of how it was used in the promotional material? I’d love to see it.

  2. Great post! Love the history of the picture and play you were involved in. I too, would like to see the promotion for the play.

    My great aunt and her partner could have been called a Boston Marriage, thought I don’t think there was any romantic connection involved. I haven’t yet discovered truly what the partner represented but she was listed that way in one of the documents I discovered and they did live together.

  3. Ah, Rhino. Such memories.
    Love the photo, love the story.

  4. It’s possible that they were graduating from a ladies’ college or boarding school. Mind you, I have no idea if there was one in St. Paul, but typically graduates would dress in white and wear corsages, and it would be a rather formal occasion. At first glance, the ladies don’t look related, but then in a closer examination, their chins and noses appear similar. They could be sisters, or they could be best friends, or more… Either way, it’s quite a lovely image.

    • Yes, that could be. I don’t really know, but that’s a good suggestion. And you’re right, the more I look at it, the more they look related.

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