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Vermont Town Accepted Same-Sex Partnership 200 Years Ago

Silhouettes of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant framed in their braided hair. (Courtesy Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History)

Silhouettes of Sylvia Drake and Charity Bryant framed in their braided hair. (Courtesy Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History)

In May, Radio Boston discussed the 10 year anniversary of the first legal same-sex marriages here in Massachusetts. But more than 200 years ago, there was one same-sex couple who, for all intents and purposes, were married.

Charity Bryant and Sylvia Drake were two Massachusetts-born women who lived for 44 years in Weybridge, Vermont. They were revered by the people of the town, participated actively in their church, and employed many in their tailor shop. Yet despite their acceptance, the two women also faced challenges from their families and neighbors.

Guest

Rachel Hope Cleves, author of “Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America,” and a professor of American history at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. She tweets @RachelCleves.

More

Salon: Lesbian Marriage In Early America

  • “The couple became an integral and beloved fixture of the community, and their mutual devotion was celebrated by local historians into the 1950s. But how did pious Weybridge countenance the fact that the women’s ‘marriage’ was not just unconventional, but downright sinful? (Charity and Sylvia themselves agonized quite a bit over their ‘fleshly’ transgressions.) The nature of their relationship constituted what Cleves calls an ‘open secret.’”

The Boston Globe: Same-Sex Marriage In The 19th Century

  • “The women were pillars of their community for four and a half decades, living together in a small house, running a tailoring business, teaching Sunday School, and acting as surrogate mothers and caregivers to hundreds of nieces and nephews. They were also, according to their own understanding and that of those around them, a married couple.”

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