Long-time couple Jean and Dick Hazelton met when The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire was better known as The Wisconsin State College at Eau Claire, a university confined to only one building: the modern-day Schofield Hall. The couple, approaching their 59th wedding anniversary this year, provide an interesting insight into the many variances in marriage and relationship traditions between the 1950s and the present day.
The Hazelton couple wed in 1955, when both were still students at the university. The pair became acquainted through a university variety show. Jean, an avid member of the theater program and WEAU television station, was on the hunt for musicians for her variety show when she found Dick. Dick had been involved in band all throughout high school, and participated in the Air Force band for 3 years before beginning college in 1953. Dick became a regular participant on the variety show with Jean. The couple became quickly enamored, Jean even claims that “he proposed to me on our first date!” Two years after Dick started college, the Hazelton’s were married.
In this day and age, marrying in college is basically unheard of. Nevertheless, marrying early was a social norm 65 years ago. In 1955, the average age of marriage was 22 for men and 20 for women. According to an article on futureofourchildren.org, the 1950s held the lowest median age for marriage for both men and women in the 20th century. Only 1/3 of 20somethings had a high school diploma and 1 out of 16 completed college. By 2015, about 5 out of 6 young people have graduated high school, 1/3 have a college degree. Marriage rates have dropped steadily in the second half of the twentieth century, and most couples marry long after college, unlike the Hazelton’s. A 2011 study by usatoday.com indicates that the average marrying age has increased to 27 for women and 29 for men. When viewing these statistics, the Hazelton’s may appear as the “average” 1950s couple, yet they did stray from some widespread values of the era. A common family value of this age was to have a “breadwinner”, or someone who works and provides for the family, generally the man. While the man of the family was expected to work, the woman was expected to keep house. The Hazelton couple strayed from this social construct. Both completed college degrees, and Jean pursued work as a teacher.
Marrying young is generally frowned upon in 2015, not to mention marrying in college. In the 1950s, marriage was considered a much more important part of society than it is today. Everyone, most specifically women, were expected to marry at some point and were encouraged to do so as soon as possible. Many 1950s couples sped into marriage, unlike most couples of today. In 2012, psychologytoday.com concluded that the average time spent dating before marriage was 3.6 years. Clearly, the societal values surrounding relationships and marriage have changed greatly over the years. Looking closely at a couple like the Hazelton’s makes this fact abundantly clear.