Ever since The New York Times published its first paper on September 18, 1851, it has had wedding announcements. And now, in a month-long series that launches today, the Times is mining the archives for new stories and essays inspired by 165 years of wedding announcements.
“The idea for this was born over a year ago when we made the discovery that there was a wedding announcement in the very first issue of The New York Times,” explained digital deputy editor of Styles Anya Strzemien, who led the project. “So it struck me that this beloved, and sometimes polarizing, institution at the Times was also an institution as old as the Times.”
The project, which is sponsored by Bravo and tied to the network’s forthcoming scripted series on relationships called “Imposters,” will feature articles inspired by various stories that have appeared in the section over the years, written by a mix of freelance contributors and Times staffers. Longtime Vows columnist Lois Smith Brady wrote about the descendants of the first couple whose wedding was announced in The New York Times. Writer Amy Bloom, who is currently working on a novel about Eleanor Roosevelt, annotated the former first lady’s wedding announcement. Lisa Birnbach, co-author of the Eighties bestseller, “The Official Preppy Handbook,” is writing about her own Eighties wedding dress. Curtis Sittenfeld is imagining a wedding announcement of the future. The New York Times Magazine writer Nikole Hannah-Jones revisited Ida B. Wells’ wedding announcement, which ran on page one in 1895.
Reading the wedding and celebrations section is a window into New York society, something of a Sunday sport for many New Yorkers who get a kick out of reading personal biographical details that serve as status shorthand over brunch.
But according to Strzemien, even in the early years, the section wasn’t all weddings of Mayflower descendants and European aristocrats or Harvard grads and Seven Sisters alumna.
“I expected this to be a very upper crust institution from the beginning, but it’s a lot more diverse and interesting than I anticipated,” Strzemien told WWD. “I think readers will be surprised by how sort of progressive the announcements were in the beginning.”
As the years progressed, the section reflected societal change through marriage trends — such as more women deciding not to change their names, the paper adding same-sex commitment ceremonies in 2002 or the uptick in couples who met with the help of dating apps. This aspect was highlighted a couple of years ago, when a software writer created a searchable database to chart the frequency of specific words and phrases in Times wedding announcements between 1981 and 2016.