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Womanless Wedding

September 17, 2012

On April 7, 1918, the Society page in The San Antonio Light, excitedly announced a “Womanless Wedding,” coming to the stage of Beethoven Hall, a popular concert venue. The event, put on by several of San Antonio’s women’s clubs, promised to bring in a large crowd and raise funds to purchase Liberty Bonds in support of the war effort. “As the name implies, the entire bridal party will be made up of men and it is whispered that the bride, a fairy-like young thing tipping the scales at 300 pounds or thereabouts, will be costumed in marvelous fashion. There will be bridesmaids galore and dainty little girls to strew posies in the path of the blushing bride.” [1] San Antonio’s most prominent citizens populated the cast of the all-male production, with famous San Antonio architect, Atlee B. Ayres, assuming the role of blushing bride, accompanied by a host of other upstanding citizens, rouged and ready to make the farcical trip to the altar.

Womanless Wedding, April 18, 1918

Womanless Wedding, April 18, 1918. General Photograph Collection, MS 362

Ayres orchestrated the production, sending cast members detailed instructions for their costumes and notifying them that: “Grease paints will be provided at Hall.” [2] Members of the wedding party came from a wide swath of San Antonio society. Maid of Honor, Carlos Bee (standing back row, sixth from the left) served as Texas State Senator who ran for Congress in 1918. Harry Hertzberg, filling the role of Mother of the Bride (seated fourth from the right), had his sights on the State Senate, pledging, “. . . equal suffrage for all in all elections.” [3] Many remember Hertzberg for his extensive collection of circus memorabilia. Porter Loring, well-known San Antonio funeral director, served as one of the Groom’s men. Performed on the first day of Fiesta, the occasion attracted important dignitaries. President and Mrs. Woodrow Wilson, Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hoover, and General Jack Pershing attended the production. [4]

Why would so many of San Antonio’s upper-crusties participate in a cross-dressing theatrical production?  Was this staged gender inversion a normal theatrical offering for audiences in the River City and elsewhere? Scholars of southern history have discovered that womanless weddings were a ubiquitous form of fundraising and entertainment throughout the South beginning in the late 1800s and are still being performed today. Women provided the driving force behind these all-male performances, convincing spouses, fathers, and sons to don frilly frocks and trounce down the aisle. Womanless weddings represented a guaranteed opportunity to raise funds for civic or charitable causes. Craig Thompson Friend points out that:  “The participation of local civic and economic leaders . . . became crucial to the success of the Womanless Wedding. At base, it was just fun to watch distinguished men make fools of themselves.” [5] According to Katherine Ayres, Atlee’s wife, the “Famous Womanless Wedding [was] all San Antonio talked about for years. . . .”[6]

The photograph below demonstrates that womanless weddings were popular not only in large cities like San Antonio, but also in rural locales as well. This all-male wedding took place somewhere in Wharton County, Texas and appeared to be an elaborate occasion. In 1924, another womanless wedding held in the city auditorium of Taft, Texas, “. . . given under the auspices of Presbyterian Woman’s Society was witnessed by more than 500 guests. Each character was very realistic, more than 50 participating.” [7]

Womanless wedding in Wharton County, Texas

Womanless wedding in Wharton County, Texas, General Photograph Collection, MS 362

  


[1] San Antonio Light, April 7, 1918, Society page.

[2]Atlee B. Ayres,  instructions to cast members of the Womanless Wedding, General Photograph Collection, MS 362, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections from the Institute of Texan Cultures.

[3]Harry Hertzberg political advertisement, San Antonio Light, July 26, 1918.

[4]Light, April 7, 1918, Society page.

[5] Craig Thompson Friend, “The Womanless Wedding: Masculinity, Cross-Dressing, and Gender Inversions in the Modern South, in Southern Masculinity: Perspectives on Manhood in the South since Reconstruction, Craig Thompson Friend, ed. (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2009), 219-245.

[6] Note from Katherine Ayres, General Photograph Collection, MS 362, University of Texas at San Antonio Libraries Special Collections from the Institute of Texan Cultures.

[7]“Church and Kindred Activities in Texas,” San Antonio Express, November 24, 1924, 11.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Kirsten Gardner permalink
    October 8, 2012 9:33 am

    What an interesting piece of history Melissa and thanks for sharing! Well done!!

  2. Bear permalink
    October 27, 2012 8:49 am

    great article Those beautiful Queen also supported the gay comunnity as the start of the AIDS, don’t know what we would of done without them.
    Papa Bear
    Founder of SAAF

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