Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Bundling by Paty Jager

While cleaning out my office area, I came across a book "Discovering America's Past" and found it has short articles on how people lived in America in the 1700's, 1800's and early 1900's.

In the Love and Marriage section I found interesting information. In Puritan America unmarried people were frowned upon and if a spouse died the widow or widower would immediately look for a new spouse. Being single could get you a fine in Fort Dodge Iowa in 1907. A law was passed requiring everyone between the ages of 25-45 to wed.

In Colonial America public censure made it imperative that single women become married or live out their days with family members spinning flax and wool for the family- hence the name spinster for an unmarried woman. Other cruel names used were thornback, stale Maid and antique virgin.  A bachelor was viewed as a criminal and the local law enforcers would make sure they were under scrutiny at all times while married men were allotted more freedom.

Because of this need to find a mate many God-fearing colonists allowed the practice of bundling. This was a chance for a man and a woman to spend quiet conversation time together without wasting oil for the lamps, candles, or wood in the stove.  An 18th century song about bundling went like this:

A bundling couple went to bed,
With all their clothes from foot to head,
That the defence might seem complete, 
Each one was wrapped in a sheet.

When a suitor might have traveled miles to visit his sweetheart an overnight stay was needed. The bundling was done by family members who securely knotted the young woman in her clothes, wrapped her in a sheet, and even put a board or bolster between the two.

However as has been the problem for centuries, young couples cannot always resist temptation, and premarital pregnancies grew in the 18th century. People began blaming the bundling and by the early 1800's couples only in the most remote rural areas still bundled. 

This would make an interesting development for a couple in a western. Perhaps there is only one bed and the  heroine is trying to keep herself chaste for another, or an older family member insists on the bundling to perhaps bring the couple closer together through conversation.  

Have you ever read a book where bundling was used?



22 comments:

Toni V.S. said...

When I was in high school (1965) I found an older copy of The Saturday Evening Post which was being cut up for illustrations. In it was story titled "The Bundling Board. I don't remember the author's name. I intended to go back later and read it before the magazine was cut up, but never did. The illustration accompanying the story showed a young man in Colonial ruffled shirt, tied-back hair, and knee pants and stockings, sitting on the floor beside a bed he'd just fallen out of while the young woman in the bed clutched covers up to her chin and her parents peeped in through the door. I wish I'd read the story then and there because it looked like a fun read. I've beentold the Nebraska Amish, the most conservative of the Old Amish, still practice bundling.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Toni, It is a fascinating part of history. I can see the merit in it and the flaws. Thanks for adding more info on the subject.

Alison E. Bruce said...

I remember reading a couple of short stories where bundling was practiced and a few more where bundling for survival was used. I'm sorry I can't remember the titles of any of these works, but I do remember that one of the bundling stories was set in colonial America and one was in a Robin Hood style story of old England.

One of the winter survival stories was about a girl who ran away from home to avoid an arranged marriage and ends up meeting, and bundling with her intended when they are caught in a snow storm. Of course, she doesn't know who he is until they are rescued the next day by her parents.

ellaquinnauthor said...

Hi Paty, Interesting article. I'd never heard of bundling before. The term spinster goes back several centuries. During the Regency, unmarried women usually starting in their late 20's were called ape-leaders. That time period also had a high early birth rate, about 50% of babys were born earlier than nine months after the marriage.

Caroline Clemmons said...

No, but I have a book of memoirs of pioneer women. One of the oddities I found was that an unmarried young woman visited a friend, but there was only one bed. The single woman slept next to the wall, then the wife, then the husband on the outside. If the visitor had been a man, the wife would have slept next to the wall and the husband in the middle. This struck me as odd since the young woman's visit was for two weeks and the couple she visited young. I wondered if they abstained from sex during her visit. The memoir indicated sleeping arrangements like this were not uncommon. I would not like to share my bed with a visitor and my husband and I have a king-sized bed! I suppose privacy prefences and issues were a bit different then.

Marie Benesh said...

Hi Paty - very interesting article. I was aware of bundling, although I don't remember if I've read about it in a novel. I was unaware of the increase in pregnancies while the bundling board was in practice. Young love will find a way! Thanks for the interesting post.

Judith Ashley said...

Hi Paty,

I've heard of boards being put in the bed between two people but not the wrapping in sheets. No specific title or author comes to mind but I do remember reading historicals set in England with this practice as part of the story line.

Ciara Gold said...

Oh, I did read a bundling scene once, just can't remember which romance it was. But what a fun article. The Iowa law got my imagination started on a possible new story. Too fun.

Ellen O'Connell said...

I'm a me too here. I've read about bundling, but can't say I remember it in a fiction story. Laws like the Iowa one are new to me. I was aware of the prejudice against the unmarried but didn't realize it reached that level.

Jacquie Rogers said...

I remember reading a story that had bundling when I was in junior high. It's one of the things that totally hooked me on history. LOL.

Paty Jager said...

Alison, I think that makes for an interesting story. I'm pretty sure this is going to show up in a story one of these days. Thanks for commenting.

Paty Jager said...

HI Ella, I figured "spinster" went back pretty far because it has been used in historical books for a long time. I think the early birth rates is just as cyclic as everything else in history. Thanks for stopping in!

Paty Jager said...

Caroline, I've read that before about a relative coming, usually a sister that shares the bed with the couple when there is no other bed. That would make for a kinky erotic historical! LOL

I agree, I have enough trouble sharing my bed with my hubby and Tink( a min-pin/chihuahua.

Paty Jager said...

Marie, It's that old saying, "Where there's a will there's a way".

Paty Jager said...

Judith, it does make sense it was used back when beds were sparse. Thanks for stopping in!

Paty Jager said...

Ciara, it is fun to find something that starts a story idea brewing! Good luck!

Paty Jager said...

Ellen, It does seem a bit extreme but I guess they thought it cut down on unmarried mothers maybe???

Paty Jager said...

Jacquie, I know I read about it once too and it might have been a book I read in high school. I'm not sure. The same for me, it's these kinds of interesting things that hooked me on history too.

Lyn Horner said...

Fun article, Paty. Did you see "The Patriot", a Mel Gibson movie set during the Revolutionary War? There's a wonderful bundling scene in it. I'd never heard of the practice until then.

Paty Jager said...

Hi Lyn, No I haven't watched that movie. I'll have to get it now just to see that scene!

mesadallas said...

Don't know if it's been done but I think the law at Fort Dodge in 1907 would make a great background setting for a western romance.

Paty Jager said...

I agree, Mesadallas!