With regards to U.S. history, the wearing of rings to symbolize marriage is a relatively recent practice. During early colonization, Puritans did not wear any jewelry, including wedding rings, because they believed that excess adornment of the body was a sin. In addition Puritan culture eliminated the need for marital identification since adultery was punishable by death and thus rarely occurred.
One common practice, during these early times was for the man to present his fiancée with the gift of a thimble, used for sewing. Although primarily a symbolic gift, the future bride would make use of the thimble in her daily sewing activities. At some point during the practicing of this custom, brides began to cut off the cup of the thimble leaving only the outer ring. The rim of the thimble acted as a woman’s wedding ring and was placed on their finger.
Simple Wedding Bands Were More Common than Diamond Engagement Rings
Although most modern couples prefer diamond wedding rings, this was not the case in early America. Simple metal bands were used until modern times, due mainly to their lower cost. In fact, many early Americans made their own rings since most men were trained in simple metalwork.
These smaller rings began to appear with slightly more decorative engraving and scrollwork during the years of the Great Depression. Indeed it is rare to find anyone who lived through this time who had a diamond wedding ring, since most assets were sold off to raise money.
The Practice of Wedding Rings as an Indication of Marital Status
According to the old tome Enquire within About Everything, published in 1903, men would wear a ring to symbolize not only their marital status, but their desire for marriage as well. If a man wanted a wife, he would wear a ring on the first finger of his left hand. When he became engaged, he moved the ring to his middle finger, and when finally married he would move it to his ring finger.
Interestingly enough, if a man never wanted to marry, he would indicate this by wearing a ring on the pinky finger of his left hand. These rules for indicating marital status were similar for women of that time.
However, the above was not true for the majority of the population. In fact, most men did not traditionally wear wedding rings until World War II. During the extended separations caused by military leave over seas, the tradition of mens wedding rings grew to signify that the man was betrothed to another.
Why the Wedding Ring is placed on the Fourth Finger
Many early cultures believed that the fourth finger of the left hand contained an artery that led directly to the heart and thus the reason for wearing a ring there. Although this was later proven by science to be untrue, the tradition had already established its place and was continued.
There is also a religious explanation for the fourth ring being the wedding finger. This belief was based on the biblical concept of the Trinity, as explained in The History and Poetry of Finger Rings.
In early English marriage ceremonies, the husband placed the ring first on top of the woman’s thumb and recited the words, “In the name of the father”. He would then move the ring to the next finger and continue with the phrase, saying “In the name of the Son”. This was followed by moving the ring to the middle finger and saying “And of the Holy Ghost”. The ring was then finally placed in its final resting place on the ring finger and the man said “Amen”.