The extravagant wedding of Charles Stratton – known by the stage name General Tom Thumb – and Lavinia Warren was a diversion in the midst of the Civil War. The cause of their short stature is unknown, although they probably had a form of growth hormone deficiency. Both were recruited as performers by P. T. Barnum. The wedding made headlines all over the country. Newspapers reported vast crowds attending the miniature wedding and following the newlyweds’ carriage. Wedding photos and thousands of reception tickets were sold. On their honeymoon, they visited President Lincoln and had a reception at the White House.
This was in 1863. In following years, Tom Thumb Weddings or miniature weddings became a popular activity. These pageants were clearly inspired by the Strattons’ wedding, and mimicked the spectacle of the perfect miniature wedding. The actors, children dressed up in adult wedding gear, were typically ten and under and sometimes as young as two. In some places, performances included more than 100 children playing the wedding party and guests. The vows were usually written comically. These plays served as fundraisers, entertainment, and/or a way to teach young children about etiquette.
Old articles, as well as a script published by Baker's Plays in 1898, refer to Tom Thumb’s bride by the name Jennie June. The cause for using this name is unclear, but it shows up in quite a few other places. A song called “Little Jennie June” was printed in Album Melodies by Richard Ferber in 1892, and a character Jenny June appeared in a set of paper doll advertisements in 1876. In the 50's, one could buy a Jennie June china doll kit. In the case of the Tom Thumb Wedding skit, it’s possible that June is a reference to the tradition of June weddings.
A couple of blushing brides were known as “Lillian Putian,” daughter of “Mr. and Mrs. Midget.” Other accounts described a double wedding with Fred Finger and Nellie or Milly May. However, it seemed more common, especially in later years, to use the performers’ real names.
The practice seems to have peaked in the first half of the 20th century and fallen off in the 70’s and 80’s, but Tom Thumb Weddings still pop up now and then. At least one was performed in 2008. The name is the only thing connecting this practice to its origins in English folklore, but it makes for an interesting side to the study of the folktale type.
Sources and pictures
A news article on the phenomenon: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/melanie-benjamin/royal-wedding_b_850540.html
Images of General Tom Thumb and Lavinia Warren: http://www.brightbytes.com/collection/tomthumb.html
An article on the Stratton wedding in 1863: http://www.nytimes.com/1863/02/11/news/loving-lilliputians-warren-thumbiana-marriage-general-tom-thumb-queen-beauty-who.html?pagewanted=all
An invitation to a Tom Thumb wedding performance: http://www.aweddingtradition.com/tom_thumb_invitation.htm
A brochure for the Tom Thumb Wedding play: http://digital.lib.uiowa.edu/cdm/ref/collection/tc/id/20862
Some pictures: http://search.tacomapubliclibrary.org/images/dt6n.asp?krequest=series+contains+A6009
A performance in 1991: http://www.nytimes.com/1991/06/16/news/tom-thumb-weddings-only-for-the-very-young.html
Some more pictures: http://blog.kittanningonline.com/2011/05/tom-thumbs-wedding/
Text copyright © Writing in Margins, All Rights Reserved
Pretty good I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed reading your blog posts. Any way I'll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you post again soon. Big thanks for the useful info.
Leave a Reply.
Researching folktales and fairies, with a focus on common tale types.