Earliest western-style wedding marches by Ewha students
Earliest western-style wedding marches by Ewha students
  • 김후연, Park Se-ra
  • 승인 2010.05.04 00:31
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Na Hae-suk and Kim Woo-young holding a wedding ceremony at Chungdong Church in 1920.
The first western-style weddings were held in the early 1890s in Korea amid a social atmosphere of astonishment and curiosity. As one of the earliest Christian schools for women, Ewha Hakdang, the original body of today’s Ewha, turned out a number of brides who married in this conspicuous style during this era.
According to the book, This is Korea’s First, those who chose to marry in the western fashion were usually Christians and thus they were more ready to accept the new western culture of the time.
“The earliest western-style weddings were conducted by missionaries who were mostly Westerners at the time,” said Kim Sun-wha, an assistant administrator who collects historic data at the Chungdong Church where the very first western style weddings took place. “Most of the initial weddings included a worshiping ceremony and were held at the church.”
Traditionally, a Korean bride was not even allowed to look into the eyes of the groom on the day of the wedding. But, in the new western-style wedding process, the bride stood next to the groom with her hand on his arm, a sight most ordinary today but one that was shocking in the earliest years of its introduction.
The Byeolgeongon magazine which was published during the colonial rule of Japan throughout 1910 and 1945 offers a view of the very first couple to marry in a semi-western manner in 1890.
At the time, the wedding blended both the traditional and western wedding styles. This was because the Christian hosts were worried the tightly closed Korean society was not ready to accept the new spectacle.
However, records show that only two years later, in 1892, a bride named Hwang Mye-rye got married in a fully western-style wedding.
Cho Don-bok's marriage at Chungdong Church in 1940.
Hwang was one of the earliest students of Ewha Hakdang who studied under Mary F. Scranton, the founder of Ewha.
On her wedding day, Hwang wore a white bridal veil for the first time in Korean history and the couple exchanged wedding gifts, the essence of a western fashion wedding.
“Although the brides did not wear a formal white dress, they would wear tidy white Korean traditional hanbok around which a white piece of fabric was wrapped for their weddings,” said Kim.
However, data on the year of the very first western-style wedding differs from evidence to evidence.
According to the book, 100 Years of Ewha, Kim Lut-si, a student of Ewha Hakdang, was the first woman to marry in western-style to a man named Cho Man-soo on April 18, 1897.
The book titled, This is Korea’s First also cites the date of the first western-style wedding on 1897.
Meanwhile, Kim said the most credible data can be found in the Newsletter for Christians, part of the historic records of the Chungdong church. Here, records state the first western-style weddings to have been held on July 19, 1899 by a man named Han Yong-kyoung and a woman with the last name Park.
“Documentations are unclear because there are not many records remaining on the earliest western-style weddings,” said Kim.
Kim also said there is a difference between a Korean wedding which simply included a Christian worship ceremony and a full western wedding conducted entirely in a western style.
“Some people might have been confused between the two and recorded as if they were all included under the category of western-style weddings,” said Kim.
Although records differ to some extent, all records show that Ewha was deeply involved in spreading the popularity of the earliest western-style weddings. According to the Ewha Archives, the school at the time even assisted western-style weddings of students who lacked the money to get married.
Western style weddings started off by a minority of Christians, grew to be the symbol of modernity and finally became largely popular in the 1950s.

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