Walker: Independence is a CW show where there’s an insane amount of chemistry flying around on the screen. This isn’t exactly your Dr. Quinn vibe. So, I figured we could take a moment to describe the very prescribed and formal courtship rituals of the time, even when outside of high society and on the frontier.
In the 1800s, there was still very specific etiquette surrounding finding a beau, despite the fact that we were moving away from people mainly being set up by their parents for monetary gain. Partners were introduced through parents, friends, neighbors, and at public social events. But the courtship itself still involved spending a lot of time with the family of the individual, chaperoned outings, or going on a long chaste walk together where people could spot if you were getting too fresh in public. Going off and cavorting with a partner in a manner unbecoming of young people of “good character” could bring rumor and ruination to your reputation and your family (this is clearly something that was forgiven of men more than women).1
Just Abigail going into a saloon at the time would be something that would raise eyebrows, to say nothing of Calian touching her wound in public.
We take Walker: Independence for the fun ride that it is and don’t expect historical accuracy, but just know that there are probably already some people in that town calling her a hussy. In a time where modest women were barely showing an ankle, two co-ed singletons stripping down to their skivvies and taking a dip would be risking being scandalized as having low morals. Hoyt wouldn’t be stressing that, but it would certainly make life more difficult for our main character, as she would be seen as a step above the White Doves. (Sorry, girl. I didn’t create the norms of society 150 years ago.)
There were some differences between how courtship would have been for people living in large cities where there would have been many options, versus those who moved to the frontier where there would have been rather few options and it would have taken considerably more travel time to meet people or to pick someone up at their home and drive them to an event. If you only have three potential options for suitors within a day’s ride from your home and only have the opportunity to meet with them twice a month outside of working long hours at a trade (remember this was prior to the creation of the days off of work for a “weekend”), you can see how social events attached to churches or schools would have been even more important to building social ties and providing those moments where the two parties could make their intent for marriage clear to not only each other but to the public.2
It becomes rather obvious why flowery letters were such a strong element of the era, as it was often the only way to keep in contact and ensure the object of your affections still knew you were thinking of them and had strong intentions in courtship when work and your own family obligations interfered with taking a 10-hour horse ride to visit her and her family.
Courtship itself changed with the advent of the car culture, and the concept of adolescence becoming more ingrained after the requirements of public education were legislated. Attitudes changed during Prohibition with the Roaring ‘20s. Suddenly, instead of chaperoned visits and only meeting three possible prospects in a ten-mile radius, young people drove where they wanted and snuggled up in the vehicles themselves. Prohibition meant that male-only saloons changed to speakeasies where women were more welcome. And since more women held down jobs in the early 1900s, that meant more independence from their families. Instead of everyone seeking out a formal courtship with the intent to marry, dating came onto the scene. Dancing with someone at a club didn’t mean you were bringing them home to meet your father. 3
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Learn more about the history behind Walker: Independence with additional context primers:
Cooler History Corner- Walker: Independence, Diversity during the Reconstruction Era,
The Historical Connection between Austin, Tx and Independence,
and Civil War and Reconstruction Eras!
1. Loewen-Clarke, A. “Date like a Victorian: Courtship and romance in the Victorian era.” Dalnavert Museum, 12 Feb. 2021, www.friendsofdalnavert.ca/blog/2021/2/12/date-like-a-victorian-courtship-and-romance-in-the-victorian-era.
2. Luchetti, C. “I do!”: Courtship, love, and marriage on the American frontier : a glimpse at America’s romantic past through photographs, diaries, and journals, 1715-1915. Three Rivers Press, 1996.
3. The Mob Museum. “Dating replaced courtship during prohibition – Prohibition: An interactive history.” Prohibition: An Interactive History, prohibition.themobmuseum.org/the-history/how-prohibition-changed-american-culture/dating-during-prohibition/.
Newspaper clipping: “Pioneer Courtship”, Wyoming Democrat of Tunkhannock Pennsylvania, April 27, 1883.
Screenshot courtesy of The CW.