100 years ago, Michigan was the place to go for a 30-second wedding

Jun 28, 2018
Originally published on June 27, 2018 5:31 pm

 


June in Michigan means time to tuck away the storm windows, dust off that swimsuit, and maybe attend a wedding or two. 

Weddings are currently a more than a $1 billion a year business in Michigan.

But the wedding industry here might be even bigger if the state's tradition of "quickie weddings" at the turn of the last century had continued.

Rachel Clark of the Michigan History Center spoke with Stateside about Michigan's former days as a hub for “quickie weddings.” 

Before 1900, people looking for a quickie wedding flocked to Wisconsin, due to the state's short waiting periods. In 1899, Wisconsin changed its law, while Michigan kept its requirements very loose. 

St. Joseph in Berrien Couty was a popular place for “quickie weddings.” It was just four hours from Chicago, so people could hop on a boat and be married by the afternoon. 

Once a couple arrived in St. Joe, they had to make a few decisions: If they wanted a plain or decorated license, if they wanted a clergy or justice of the peace, and where they wanted to be married. 

Clark said the clerk was averaging a marriage every four minutes, with the fastest ceremony being just 30 seconds. 

Christian leaders in the area were against these marriages, as were clergy in Chicago who were losing wedding business. 

In the 1910s, the Michigan Secretary of State began to express disdain. It was the organization charged with registering all of these marriages. 

“They really don’t like whats going on,” said Clark. “It's too difficult to keep track, and they see marriage and the marriage laws of Michigan as something to protect the people of Michigan.” 

By the mid-1920s, Michigan government officials had overhauled the state’s marriage laws, adding in racist conditions such as banning marriage between blacks and whites, and also adding a 60-day waiting period for any license. 

Listen above for the full interview with Michigan History Center’s Rachel Clark. 

This post was written by Stateside production assistant Sophie Sherry. 

This segment is produced in partnership with the Michigan History Center.

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