Eighty years ago, weddings in Port Townsend had to come to grips with new Army regulations. Fort Worden had come out of its twenty year slumber that followed WWI, and the post was returning to life. Anti-aircraft guns were replacing the big guns on Artillery Hill and new recruits, both regular Army and National Guard, were filling the new barracks and houses as fast as they could be built.
In 1939, Port Townsend’s population was just under 4,700 citizens. By the time the United States entered WWII in December, 1941, the ranks of Fort Worden had greatly expanded and would reach over 4,000 officers and troops before war’s end.
The young soldiers came from all over the nation to live and train in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. However, it didn’t take them long to realize that due to the large ratio of men to women it was going to be challenging to meet and, hopefully, court a local woman.
Washington State, in an attempt to dampen soldier and civilian ardor, quickly passed a law requiring all marriage license applicants to wait three days before issuance of the license. Known as the “gin marriage” law, the Leader cracked wise about the new regulation. In its July 6, 1939, edition the paper poked fun at justices of the peace, Messrs. Vose and Meeker. When interviewed, both complained of the loss of revenue they were enduring because the wait period took away the opportunity of performing an on-the-spot marriage ceremony. “Gosh it’s tough,” complained Justice Meeker. “….I’ve been paid as high as $5 for performing a nice little marriage – but that’s all gone now.”
Fort Worden echoed the Leader’s news and sentiment. The Fort’s scribe, J.W. Hulbert, submitted an article to the Leader announcing, per War Department regulations, “….Dan Cupid is going to have tougher sledding…a general tightening up of policy which tends to discourage the marriage of enlisted personnel in the lower ranks.” He gamely attempts to justify the logic of the action by noting; “…it is expected that the efficiency of the Army will be martially benefitted eventually by this change in policy.”
It would be difficult to measure what affects, if any, the marriage boom had on the military’s prowess during the war, but there’s no question the marriages of that time continue to have a significant impact on our community today. The Leader recorded forty-three marriage licenses issued in 1939. The applicants are a “who’s who” of Port Townsend, with family names like Arey, Minish, Kjellin, and Younce, still familiar in town today.
Although soldiers no longer queue at the courthouse seeking marriage license applications, Fort Worden has become the premier location for weddings and special occasion events on the Olympic Peninsula. The fort currently hosts over twenty weddings a year, including an intimate experience aptly named, “Elopements at the Fort!”