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A Tom Thumb Wedding

Source of image: Online Florida State Archives

MINI-MARRIAGES — Parents used to “ooh” and “ahh” at their kids in Tom Thumb weddings! These curious, mock ceremonies drew audiences during the early to mid 1900s. This 1951 production took place at an African American elementary school in Jacksonville. Proclaims a stage sign, “What We Are To Be, We Are Now Becoming.”

According to the Florida State Archives, the image comes from Oakland Grammar School #102, located in the neighborhood of Oakland, northwest of today’s Alltel Stadium. As indicated by Marsha Rosier Phelts, the well-known Jacksonville historian, the picture may have actually been snapped at an African American school in the Arlington area. Marsha’s aunt, a teacher named Pearlie Cobb Scarborough, was the young lady in the white blouse who is seated in the middle of the photo. She sponsored the event, along with another educator, Minnie Russell. Mrs. Scarborough served as a local elementary school teacher for 37 years.

Never taller than 33 inches, Tom Thumb was the legendary circus midget who made headlines when he married a dwarf bride in 1863. After their fashionable New York wedding, President Abraham Lincoln received the couple at the White House. Thumb and his wife entertained audiences in America and abroad until their retirement in 1882.

For many years, parents & teachers rounded up toddlers & elementary school kids for their own Tom Thumb nuptials. Children played all of the parts, from Thumb and his bride, to the ring bearer and the maid of honor, who might nibble on her bouquet if she were really young. The pint-sized affairs took place in such Florida communities as Cocoa, Newberry, and Fort Myers, as shown by pictures at the Florida State Archives.

In some parts of the nation, traveling companies specialized in the event, providing costumes and serving as masters of ceremonies. Proud, paying parents got to see their kids on stage, while the youngsters might receive ice cream for their cooperation. (The movie star, Glenn Ford, first toddled on stage at age four in a community production of a Tom Thumb wedding. His role made a lasting impression on the boy.)

written by Glenn Emery

Copyright © 2019 by Jacksonville Historical Society