The Rules of Engagement

Courtship in the Early Republic

The Litchfield History Museum's exhibition, The Rules of Engagement: Courtship in the Early Republic, opened to the public on Saturday, April 16th. The exhibition followed the paths young people took as they experienced romance and entered into courtship and, eventually, marriage.

Throughout the United States, young people of the period worked hard to find a suitable mate. Litchfield residents witnessed particularly high numbers of courtships. Each year of the early nineteenth century, Litchfield became the temporary home to dozens of young men and women from all corners of the new country who came here to study at the Litchfield Law School and the Litchfield Female Academy.

Parents sent their sons and daughters to Litchfield knowing that not only would their children receive a fine education, but that they would meet a greater number of potential suitors than they would at home. In Litchfield young people found an especially rich and active social life, with many prospects for romance and courtship. The great numbers of young people and flirtations also provided opportunity for scandal, misunderstandings and heartbreak.

The Rules of Engagement showcased furniture, costumes, documents, books, paintings, and household items from the Society's collection. The exhibition was developed by both the Society's staff and guest curator Kathleen Craughwell-Varda. Craughwell-Varda is a museum consultant who has worked as both a museum curator and a textile conservator. She graduated from the New York University/Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The author of Looking for Jackie: American Fashion Icons, she was a consultant for the Society's exhibition Inspiring Fashion. Her other exhibition credits include work at the Historical Society of the Town of Greenwich, the Scarsdale Historical Society, and the Wilton Historical Society.

The Rules of Engagement was funded through generous grants from the Seherr-Thoss Foundation and the Cultural Heritage Development Fund of the Connecticut Humanities Council.

The exhibition was open from April 16, 2004 through November 27, 2004.