A womanless wedding is a traditional community "ritual of inversion" performance, popular in the United States in the early 19th century. In this comic ritual, the all male cast would act out all roles of a traditional wedding party – including those of bridesmaids, flower girls, and the mother of the bride – while dressed in gowns and dresses. The event often raised money for charities, civic organizations, and churches.
The performances were so popular that scripts were developed around the idea, and the do-it-yourself theatrical productions were passed along from city to city. Some of the stagings included impersonations of notable Americans, such as Henry Ford and Charlie Chaplin. The performances were often performed by known groups, such as the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Early modern Europe, and American prior to the 19th century, used womanless weddings as a way to safely express social strains between classes. The actors were lower-class; would ridicule the social position of the upper-class through skits for entertainment purposes. The upper-class citizens benevolently approved of these acts as cultural acknowledgement of their status in society.
Womanless weddings were performed throughout the United States, but most prominently in the upper Midwest and the South. Southern towns were already staging burlesque shows, and womanless weddings gave another opportunity to raise funds in the form of an admission fee. Womanless weddings traditionally raised funds for causes and organizations, such as a North Carolina womanless wedding which was attended by more than 1000 people to raise funds for the Parent Teacher Association.
A womanless wedding would include a skit of a wedding ceremony, sometimes followed by a reception. The skits would elaborately make fun of gender stereotypes or other gendered qualities that went against the cultural norms of the community. Common themes included opinionated women, premarital pregnancies, males who expressed more feminine qualities than societal standards, racial minorities, and “rural folk.”
Prominent male members of a community would typically be the actors of the womanless performances. Their status would allow for their outlandish performances of stereotypical imitations of the minorities of a community, and the conditions of a community that went against the social norms of the culture in the spirit of entertainment to be accepted by the community with humor, rather than backlash and their masculinity being questioned by a community.
- Linton Weeks. "When 'Womanless Weddings' Were Trendy", npr.org, 16 June 2015. Retrieved 17 June 2015.
- Southern masculinity : perspectives on manhood in the South since Reconstruction. Friend, Craig Thompson,. Athens: University of Georgia Press. 2009. ISBN 0820336742. OCLC 647878931.CS1 maint: extra punctuation (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
- Kemp, Bill (July 12, 2015). "Staged 'womanless weddings' once drew crowds". The Pantagraph. Retrieved April 18, 2016.
- Johnson, Colin R. (Summer 2007). "Camp Life: The Queer History of "Manhood" in the Civilian Conservation Corps, 1933-1937". American Studies. 48 (2): 19–35 – via Academic Search Premier.
- "Encyclopedia of North Carolina: Womanless Weddings". Retrieved June 17, 2015.
- "Forest City Courier from Forest City, North Carolina 1922". Retrieved June 17, 2015.