trophy wife (1961)

ADSGarson O'Toole adsgarsonotoole at GMAIL.COM
Mon May 19 03:38:51 UTC 2014

Ben: Your excellent article mentioned that "trophy" originally
referred to the spoils of war. The 1919 citation below is a analogical
extension of this meaning that merges with the term "trophy wives".
The newspaper published a picture showing "forty seven foreign wives
of American soldiers and sailors".

Date: March 30, 1919
Paper Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Newspaper: Baltimore American
Section: Pictorial Gravure
Quote Page: 1
Database: GenealogyBank

[Begin photo caption]
Our Boys Return with Wives as Trophies and Photographs the Censor
Finally Passed.
[End photo caption]

Below is a version of a trophy wife in 1889.
Year: 1889
Title: The Primitive Family in Its Origin and Development
Author: C. N. Starcke (Carl Nicolai Starcke)
Quote Page 219

[Begin excerpt]
When Spencer states that before marriage it was often necessary to
give proof of courage, and that this led to the symbolizing of the
wife as a trophy, we cannot agree with his opinion, since we believe
that the proofs of courage demanded of a bridegroom must be regarded
as a symbolic warrant of his capacity to provide for and protect a
[End excerpt]

These citations are intended to provide interesting background.
Continuity with the modern sense of trophy wife is not being asserted.


On Sat, May 17, 2014 at 6:49 PM, Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at> wrote:
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Ben Zimmer <bgzimmer at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      trophy wife (1961)
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> My latest Wall Street Journal column is on the disparaging history of
> the term "trophy wife":
> (If paywalled, try Googling for "Decades of Scorn for Trophy Wives":
> )
> "Trophy wife" is dated by OED3 (Mar. 2014 update) to 1973. As I
> mention in the column, I've dated it back to 1961, when it appeared in
> Phyllis I. Rosenteur's book _The Single Women_. While I haven't seen
> the full text of the book, I've seen syndicated excerpts in a couple
> of newspapers. Here's one such excerpt:
> ---
> _Arizona Republic_, Dec. 3, 1961, p. F11, col. 3
> Variations on this theme [of The Convenience-Wife] include the
> Hostess-Wife of a businessman who entertains extensively and seeks a
> higher-level home-branch version of his secretary; the Trophy-Wife --
> the woman who was hard to get because of birth or wealth or beauty --
> to be kept on exhibition like a mammoth tusk or prime Picasso; the
> Show-Case-Wife, chosen for her pulchritude and constantly displayed in
> public places, dripping in mink and dangling diamonds; and the Company
> and Commuter wives who already are living legends.
> A percentage of such wives, of course, aspired to be thus acquired,
> but many who only wished to be possessed as women find themselves,
> instead, possessions.
> ---
> The same text appeared in the _Winnipeg Free Press_, Dec. 12, 1961, p.
> 10, col. 4.
> --bgz
> --
> Ben Zimmer
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

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