Tag: mail-order bride

Online Dating in the 19th Century

With guest blogger Becca Whitham.

Online dating is not a new phenomenon…at least matching two people over a distance before they meet in person isn’t. During the 1800’s, it manifested itself as mail-order brides. The Telegraph Proposal is the final book in what Gina and I call our “mail-order brides gone wrong” series. We wanted to explore pitfalls of modern online dating using an historical setting. In our first story, The Promise Bride, we looked at what happens if the person you’ve been corresponding with was lying with malicious intent. The second story, The Kitchen Marriage, explored what happens when the family of the person you’ve been dating thinks only desperate and dishonest people resort to matchmaking services. And the final book looks at what happens when the dating service matches you with someone you not only know but don’t like.

Our research turned up fascinating stories which, if you changed the dates and a few particulars, read like they were ripped from today’s news stories. Women were often lured away from home with the promise of something better only to find themselves lost in the underworld of drugs and prostitution. There were stories of individuals falsely representing themselves to get money. Here’s a quote from The Chicago Tribune (which we added to the opening of The Kitchen Marriage): “…(Here’s) a fact that all women who ever answered a matrimonial advertisement or ever intend to answer one should remember: No man who has the ability or the means to support a wife in comfort needs to advertise for one.” The article was written December 28, 1884, but doesn’t it sound like advice you hear today?

 

To combat the perception that only desperate people would advertise for a spouse, services bloomed to help vet prospective candidates. Today we have Match.com, eHarmony, ChristianMingle, and others. My husband vetted someone. He was a pastor in Washington State at the time, and one of our congregants had been corresponding with a woman in Florida. Her pastor called my husband and said, “Okay. Tell me about this Greg fellow. Is he who he claims to be?” My husband was able to assure the Florida pastor that Greg was indeed telling the truth about himself. A few months later, after the woman had come to Washington for some in-person courting, my husband performed their wedding.

In the 1800’s, matchmaking agencies offered vetting services. For The Telegraph Proposal, our principal characters were tricked into a correspondence courtship by a well-intentioned but deceptive member of such an agency. However, instead of letting the ruse stand, we blew it up early in the story. I don’t know about you, but I hated how the movie “You’ve Got Mail” ended. Had I been Meg Ryan’s character, I would not have lovingly wrapped my arms around Tom Hanks’ neck and kissed him on that bridge after discovering how he’d tricked me. I’d have slapped his face and stomped off! So that’s what happens in The Telegraph Proposal. Our characters had to learn how to find their way back to love after such a disaster.

This skill is something we all need. My husband and I have conducted close to a hundred marriage retreats, and we always talk about how couples need to learn how to fall in love with the person they actually married as opposed to the one they thought they had. Some couples figure it out before marriage, others—like my husband and me—must figure it out afterwards. The opening sentence of The Telegraph Proposal sums it up: “Marriage did not make women experts on men.”

Becca Whitham (WIT-um) Award-winning author, paper crafter, and Army wife, Becca and her twelve-foot long craft cabinet follow her husband of thirty-five years wherever the army needs a good chaplain. She thinks the cabinet should count as a dependent. So far, neither the army nor the IRS is convinced. In between moves from one part of the country to the other, she writes stories combining faith and fiction that touch the heart. She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Romance Writers of America. You can find her online at http://www.beccawhitham.com

 

Ruthy here: Becca has graciously offered to give away a copy of The Telegraph Proposal! Leave a comment below to be entered… and tell us what you think of online dating. The good… the bad… and if you’ve got a great story to share (like Ruthy’s nephew and his lovely wife, married 12 years and three kids, met at Match.com) we’d love to hear it!

Go West, young man!

We’re thrilled to have Becca Whitham with us today. In Becca’s own words, she’s an author, paper crafter, and Army wife who resides in South Carolina with her husband of more than 30 years and a 12-foot-long craft cabinet she thinks should count as a dependent. So far, neither the army nor the IRS are convinced. In between moves from one part of the country to the other, she writes stories combining faith and fiction that touch the heart. You can find her online at http://www.beccawhitham.com or on her paper crafting blog at http://www.becca-expressions.blogspot.com.

“Go West, young man!”

This was the solution to every disappointed hope of the mid-late 1800s. Did your crops fail? Go West. Were you too poor to own your own land? Go West. Had your life taken you in a direction you didn’t like? Go West!

This solution appealed to women as well as men because there’s a universality about thinking the grass will be greener, the situation better, and life easier if we could start somewhere fresh and leave all our mistakes behind.

But what if you gave up everything to make the journey only to discover that your situation is now worse?

In The Promised Bride, Emilia Stanek leaves the stench of Chicago for the wide-open space of Montana as a mail-order bride because she’s sure being the wife of Finn Collins—a man she’s fallen in love with through letters—will solve everything from her father’s ailing health to her brother’s involvement with a gang of boys she doesn’t like. Except, when she arrives in Helena expecting to meet her new husband, she’s greeted by the county sheriff instead and told that Finn was murdered the day before. Not only that, he left behind considerable debts which she’ll be responsible to pay if she files the paperwork formalizing her proxy marriage.

“This mail-order bride novel as it all – likeable characters, intriguing suspense, a dash of wry humor, and a swoon-worthy romance!”– RT Book Reviews, 4 Stars

With nothing left for her back home, Emilia stays. As you’ve probably guessed, she also falls in love with the gruff county sheriff, Mac McCall, over the course of the story. I know. Spoiler. But you don’t read a romance novel to find out how it ends, you read it to enjoy the journey.

When Gina Welborn and I first brainstormed this story, we wanted to use the past to speak into today. Mail-order brides of the 1800s were all too often greeted on the other end of their journey by pimps and madams who had tricked them into a life of sexual slavery—which is the same way predators use Facebook, Twitter, ShapChat, Craigslist, and other online sites to lure young girls, in particular, into sex trafficking. The problem is epidemic. According to wearethorn.org, 100,000 new ads for “escorts” are posted every day, and 63 percent of children rescued from sex trafficking report that they were approached via an online source.

As Mac says, anyone can be anything in a letter…or online.

Although there’s no mystery that Mac and Emilia end up together, there is one regarding Finn. Did he fool Emilia into a marriage that would have ended with her being sold into a brothel? Would she have been better off staying in Chicago and using her energy to find solutions there? We didn’t solve this mystery easily. We wanted readers to wrestle with Finn, his intentions, and Emilia’s decision to trust the written words of a man she’d never actually met.

Sometimes it is a good idea to go West—to start over and start fresh in a new place. But sometimes the best solution is to stay put and figure out how to make your life better where you are right now.

For a chance to win a copy of The Promise Bride, please leave a comment telling us a challenge you are currently facing or a way lessons from the past apply to today.

 

 

Taking a Chance—a Big Chance—on Love & Book Giveaway

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“Did you ever wonder why we use the word engagement
to describe both a promise of marriage and a war battle?”-Undercover Bride

My June release Undercover Bride is a mail order bride story with a twist. Maggie Michaels is a Pinkerton detective working undercover to nab the Whistle-Stop Bandit. To do this she is posing as his mail order bride. The clock is ticking; if she doesn’t find the proof she needs to put him in jail, she could end up as his wife!

My heroine has a good reason for doing what she’s doing, but what about the thousands of other women during the 1800s who left family and friends to travel west and into the arms of strangers?

Shortage of Men

mailThe original mail order bride business grew out of necessity. The lack of marriageable women in the west was partly responsible, but so was the Civil War. The war created thousands of widows and a shortage of men.

As a result, marriage brokers and “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up all around the country. Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs. It took ten days for a letter to travel by Pony Express and often the wax seals would melt in the desert heat, causing letters to be thrown away before reaching their destinations.

According to an article in the Toledo Blade a lonely men even wrote to the Sears catalogue company asking for brides (the latest such letter received was from a lonely Marine during the Vietnam War).

                                      Cultural Attitudes

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Marriage was thought to be the only path to female respectability. Anyone not conforming to society’s expectations was often subjected to public scorn. Women who had reached the “age” of spinsterhood with no promising prospects were more likely to take a chance on answering a mail order bride ad than younger women.

Not Always Love at First Sight

For some mail-order couples, it was love (or lust) at first sight. In 1886, one man and his mail order bride were so enamored with each other they scandalized fellow passengers on the Union Pacific Railroad during their honeymoon.

Not every bride was so lucky. In her book Hearts West, Christ Enss tells the story of mail order bride Eleanor Berry. En route to her wedding her stage was held up at gunpoint by four masked men. Shortly after saying “I do,” and while signing the marriage license, she suddenly realized that her husband was one of the outlaws who had robbed her. The marriage lasted less than an hour.

Men: Do Not Be Deceivedmail2

Women weren’t the only ones who could be duped. Ads popped up warning men not to be seduced by artificial bosoms, bolstered hips, padded limbs, cosmetic paints and false hair.

Despite occasional pitfalls, historians say that most matches were successful. That’s because the ads were generally honest, painfully so in some cases. If a woman was fat and ugly she often said so. If not, photographs didn’t lie (at least not before Photoshop came along).

There may have been another reason for so much married bliss. A groom often signed a paper in front of three upstanding citizens promising not to abuse or mistreat his bride. She in turn promised not to nag or try to change him.

No one seems to know how many mail order brides there were during the 1800s, but the most successful matchmaker of all appears to be Fred Harvey who, by the turn of the century, had married off 5000 Harvey girls.

Okay, since it’s almost June and I’ve got brides on my mind how about sharing a wedding memory, either your own or someone else’s?  It can be funny, sweet, nightmarish or just plain special.  Fair warning: anything you say could be used in a book!  If all else fails just stop by and say hello and I’ll put your name in the old Stetson.

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Wild West Guns and Grins or How the West Was Fun

 Another Pinkerton Lady Detective is on the case. This time the female operative masquerades as a mail-order bride. Pretty funny overall plot to begin with, so expect some fun reading while the detective team attempts to unmask a pair of train robbers and murderers. That’s how Margaret Brownley writes. Western mystery with humor rolling throughout, like tumbleweeds on Main Street.

                                                           -Harold Wolf on Amazon

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