The homemade movie-trailer proposal, the flash mob, and the personalized "will you marry me?" crossword puzzle: Where did the…

Notes on nuptials.
June 20 2011 7:08 AM

Shout It From the Rooftops!

A brief history of the public marriage proposal.

Read more of Slate's "Weddings" issue. 

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Post-JumboTron, the proposal entered yet another period of flux. Another wave of feminism in the 1990s helped level the proposal playing field, and the idea that a woman could propose to a man became less absurd , says Abbott. But it's still one place where egalitarianism hasn't quite stuck. Many women still feel uncomfortable and unnatural proposing to a man. And some men are attracted to the extravagant proposal as an act of virility, a palpable way to exert dominance over the marriage process.

"It's a confident thing to do, a big megaphone statement to the world," explains wedding etiquette expert Anna Post, the great-great granddaughter of the infamous Emily Post. "I think there's some real appeal to men in that."

Today, both social media and a generational blurring of the public and private sphere have fueled the public proposal fire: Expressing your undying love in front of a crowd of millions now requires only an Internet connection and a modicum of creativity.


Still, does the pageantry of a lavish public proposal signal the beginning of a happy marriage? Wedding historians say no one has mapped that particular correlation yet. But if we extrapolate from one of the first public proposals in the 1970s, it seems likely that Corey Newman and Marlowe Epstein may still be scribbling love letters into crossword puzzles into their golden years.

Todd Miller asked his wife Terry to marry him on the first-ever electronic billboard in New York City back in 1978.

Miller, then a senior at the University of Tampa, bought a 15-second spot for $129 from the billboard company. His question lit up Times Square on a frigid evening right before Thanksgiving. "I wanted the world to know how much I loved my wife," explains Miller, now a business owner in Milwaukee.

Terry, he recalls, was "100 percent" mortified by his public proposal. She remembers it differently. "I started laughing," she says. "I thought it was very sweet." They've been married for 30 years and have seven kids.

Myrtle Reed would be proud.

Click here to see a video slide show on public proposals.

Correction, June 22, 2011: This article incorrectly attributed the origin of marriage banns to 17th century New England Protestants, when in fact the tradition of marriage banns probably dates back to 12th-century France, according to the Catholic Encyclopedia. (Return to the corrected sentence.)