Front page of the 1 August 1940 Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star reported this happy news. Happy news, at least, for those working in the Fredericksburg court clerk’s office. That office had been under siege for 20 months with couples fleeing their states’ premarital examination law and “wait laws.”
“Stampede for Licenses over. Expect return to Normalcy” was the subheading. Why? Because on August 1, 1940 the State of Virginia’s new law requiring a serological test went into effect.
As reported in an earlier blog about digitizing of these marriage records, the Free Lance-Star confirms our guesstimate on numbers. Through the end of July 1940 the total for July was 484, exceeding all records for a month, with the number to date for the year to 1,456. [The end total for that year was 1,599]
The paper reported, “ Since early December 1938, when Virginia first began to feel the effects of “wait” laws which had been passed in a number of eastern states, until yesterday a total of 3,312 licenses were issues at the local clerk’s office.”
Maryland no longer a Gretna Green. Couples came to Virginia when Maryland, “one of the most famous Gretna Greens in the east passed a 72 hour wait law between issuance of license and marriage. That law went into effect December 1, 1938. Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut had already passed laws – the reason for the high volume of these residents pouring into Fredericksburg.
Seeing this massive invasion of couples and the pressure it was putting on the court clerks, the Virginia Assembly discussed passing a “wait law” similar to that of other states. This was shelved and replaced by a law requiring a blood test for venereal disease. Although the presence of venereal disease did not prevent marriage, the law demanded the infected person take treatment until cured, as long as they were Virginia residents.
Two photos are included with this article. Couples being married are: Roland J. Leveque and Ellen Gordon; John Erhardt and Josephine Ryan of Philadelphia. Virginia has Marriage Commissions, so couples could fill out the paperwork, pay a couple of dollars, and be married immediately inside the courthouse (or outside by a crepe myrtle in summer) by a Marriage Commissioner. These commissioners are still available today and are allowed to charge up to $50 for each marriage performed.
Today - The article is helpful to us as we continue our digitizing efforts since it lists the years previous and how many licenses were issued each year. As we go back to 1914, we will know ahead of time how many we can do in a morning.