Sometimes we wonder if everyone actually participated in the Courtship process, or was it only people who lived in country estates? Here is a description of courtship among the working classes, from Moira Weigel’s book Labor of Love.
The son of a rabbi, Samuel Chotzinoff came with his family from Vitebsk, Russia, to New York when he was seventeen years old. They lived in a housing project on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Chotzinoff grew up to be a well-known music critic, and in his memoirs he described their home in the Stanton Street Settlement.
“The average apartment consisted of three rooms: a kitchen, a parlor, and a doorless and windowless bedroom between.
“The etiquette of courting was strict,” he added.
If a young man came to call on his older sister, the two of them would have to crowd in the kitchen. If his parents were out, they made Samuel stay in to spy on his sister and any suitors who turned up.
Of course, traditional parents would have preferred to set up their children through family members of matchmakers. In the Old Country, your family and community had controlled courtship. Many ethnic and religious groups funded political and theatrical clubs in the hopes that their children would meet there.
There is a lot in this little passage: a formalized “visiting” custom, supervision, the participation of parents, “matchmakers” and community, the establishment of institutions where young people could meet, and more. It wasn’t the Feminist Life Script and “dating” without sex.