Engagement ceremony plate

Gender and life cycle: marriage

Even today, it is common for many families to assemble a trousseau for their daughters. But what did this trousseau mean in the 19th century, when a woman’s role was limited to reproduction and motherhood? The trousseau was part of the dowry which the woman brought to the marriage in order to contribute to their shared responsibilities. The dowry was provided by the parents or family members of the bride and (depending on the social class) was made up of linens, the future wife’s clothing, furniture and/or property. It was an important strategy when it came to marrying off a woman and a symbol of social status. Once they were married, the husband was responsible for managing these assets, but their owner was still the wife. In the event the marriage was dissolved or the woman was widowed, the dowry was returned to her. Therefore, the dowry had a special meaning, with marriage being one of the only ‘decent’ paths which a woman could follow in life, together with the convent.