Training for Love and Family: Princeton University’s Marriage Course

In 1927, Ernest R. Groves developed a groundbreaking new course at the University of North Carolina focused on comprehensive preparation for marriage and family life. By the mid-1930s, scattered colleges throughout the United States were offering similar classes to undergraduates, but Princeton joined the group a bit late. The first serious discussions of the possibility of having such a course here occurred in the late 1940s. Students were pushing for a course to address sociology, psychology, religion, economics, law, and medicine as they related to marriage and family life. A 1949 editorial in the Daily Princetonian lamented the lack of such a class as “an astonishing fact.” The first marriage lecture at Princeton was given on February 15, 1950.

Due to its high demand, “A Course on Marriage and Family Life” was open only to Princeton seniors after the first couple of years, even though it was non-curricular (i.e., could not be taken for credit). One needed tickets to attend lectures, for which a fee was charged. Princeton faculty led smaller discussion groups, similar to precepts, following the lectures. The institution was not yet co-educational, so the focus was on how to be a good husband and father; wives- and mothers-in-training were presumably taking courses elsewhere. Some students found it difficult to discuss sensitive topics openly, but most reports indicate that they felt it had been a good experience for them.

Marriage course ticket sales. Photo from 1957 Bric-a-Brac.

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