Mail Order Brides~ by Janet Dean

Janet's picture[1]I’m delighted to be back as a guest at Petticoat and Pistols, a blog that’s chockfull of great information! I’ve found myself perusing previous posts, sharing a laugh or a nostalgic sigh as I filled up on historical tidbits.

I’m especially excited that in three days The Substitute Bride, Steeple Hill Love Inspired Historical, will hit the shelves. It was a fun story to write—with a mail-order bride, disgruntled groom and a small, personality-filled town. Here’s a peek:

They Struck a Bargain for Marriage

Fleeing an arranged marriage, debutante Elizabeth Manning exchanges places with a mail-order bride bound for New Harmony, Iowa. Life on the frontier can’t be worse than forced wedlock to pay her father’s gambling debts. But Ted Logan’s rustic lifestyle and rambunctious children prove to be more of a challenge than Elizabeth expects. She doesn’t know how to be a mother or a wife. She doesn’t even know how to tell Ted the truth about her past—especially as her feelings for him grow. Little does she know, Ted’s hiding secrets of his own. When their pasts collide, there’s more than one heart at stake.

Why was Ted disgruntled? When he and Elizabeth are about to speak their vows, the bride suggests one teeny change—the name on the marriage license. J A clear sign trouble lies ahead for this couple.  

 Perhaps you know an interesting or funny incident that took place at a wedding ceremony. If so, please share.   

 As a homemaker and mother, Elizabeth Manning is definitely a “fish out of water.” Yet no matter how inept she is, she never gives up, even finds unique ways to handle the children and her new and very challenging life on the farm. I admire her spirit and fortitude—the same attributes that enabled women to survive the challenges of the West.      

 In my quest for information to write this story a friend suggested I read Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Sub brideFrontier. The author Chris Enss relates fascinating stories of men and women who wed sight unseen. My husband and I dated for 2½ years. After we married, it didn’t take long to discover we still had things to learn about one another. All good, of course. LOL Can you imagine the surprises in store for these couples who may have only exchanged a few letters or perhaps a picture and often never met until their wedding day?

 Why did these women leave behind everything and everyone they knew to take the amazing step of marrying a stranger? Some were motivated by the fear of spinsterhood. Others had a desperate need of life’s necessities and hoped for a better life. In today’s world a high percentage of marriages are arranged, a norm for many cultures.

 In the Gold Rush era in America, men in the West needed wives. Men and women seeking a mate placed personal advertisements in newspapers, giving physical description, their financial situation and whom they sought. Throughout the 1870s, 1880s and 1890s a weekly newspaper, The Matrimonial News, printed in both San Francisco, California and Kansas City, Missouri, facilitated matchmaking.

 In Hearts West, I found the mail-order bride account of Eleanor Berry, a teacher from California, particularly interesting. Twenty-two and afraid she’d be a spinster, Eleanor responded to Louis Dreibelbis’ advertisement for a bride. Louis described himself as wealthy and average-looking. Their three month correspondence led to a marriage proposal. Eleanor resigned her teaching position and took a train then a six-horse stagecoach carrying twelve other passengers. The trip was uneventful trip—until four bandits held up the stagecoach. As they were about to use gunpowder to blow the door off a safe onboard, Eleanor protested the loss of the trunk holding her trousseau. When the leader hauled it down, Eleanor noted a jagged scar on the back of his hand. Reaching her destination, Eleanor prepared for the ceremony. Though her groom looked surprised when he saw her and Eleanor thought his voice sounded familiar, the two exchanged vows. As Eleanor signed the marriage license then passed the pen to Louis, she saw that same jagged scar. She screamed and ran upstairs. Louis rode off, wondering how his bride had recognized him as the thief. Eleanor returned home too embarrassed to admit what happened, but when the truth came out, she attempted suicide. The fast action of her guardian and local doctors saved her life. Two months after the robbery, sheriff’s deputies caught up with Louis. He testified against his fellow bandits, was released and given a one-way ticket to his hometown in Illinois, warned never to return to California. Hearts West makes fascinating reading and I recommend it to anyone interested in mail-order bride stories. Though I’m unsure how many marriages occurred, the accounts of those that did prove the outcome of these mail-order bride matches varied from wedded bliss to the misery Eleanor experienced.

 An interesting attempt at meeting the need for wives was devised by Asa Mercer. In 1864 and again in 1866 when men far outnumbered women in Washington Territory, Mercer tried to bring a shipload of marriageable women from the East to Seattle. Bachelors gave Mercer money to finance the trip and bring them back a bride. Delays and other complications hindered the success of Mercer’s plan. The number of the Mercer Maids, as they came to be called, willing and able to make the trip didn’t live up to the expectation of the waiting bachelors who’d paid for a bride, creating quite an uproar when the ship docked five months after it left New York’s harbor. The trip had cost more than Mercer had calculated so he couldn’t refund their money or live up to his promises. Though Mercer’s intentions were good, others intentionally swindled people who paid money for a mail-order mate that never materialized.

 But if not for those brave women who moved west to marry and make a home for their husbands and children—establishing families, as well as founding institutions like churches, schools and libraries, we might not have seen such flourishing civilization of the frontier.  

 Did any of your ancestors marry for convenience? If so, please share their stories.  

 Thanks for chatting at Petticoats and Pistols today. For a chance to win a copy of The Substitute Bride, please leave a comment.

 Visit Janet online at:

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76 thoughts on “Mail Order Brides~ by Janet Dean”

  1. Great post Janet ~ very interesting! But….

    As much as I love it – and you – looks like the battle is on …. Colts? You’re rooting for the Colts when they won last year and the poor Saints haven’t EVER been to the Big Game?

    Shame, shame.

    Just kidding! 🙂

    May the best team win and may God bless you with mucho success in your writing!

    God bless you ALL here @ P&P!


  2. Janet, I read this book a few days ago. I order them a month ahead of time. I loved it. I’d read many many more like it. Gotta go for the Saints here.

  3. great post!
    fear of being a sinster at 22yrs? oh my!
    i wonder if i would have considered such a thing…i guess they’d have to be pretty good letters 🙂

  4. Hi, Janet! Thank you for a great post and giveaway! I love Westerns and Mail-Order Bride stories! My family story takes place in the early 1900’s. My great-grandmother, Mollie, was a widow raising her young daughter when she met a very wealthy slightly older gentleman, Edgar. He was a kind man, and a true gentleman. Although Mollie did not love Edgar in the romantic way, she accepted his proposal in order to have security and a home for herself and her daughter, Mable. Edgar proved to be a loving and generous husband, and he legally adopted Mable. Mollie grew to love Edgar, and she made him a fine wife and a gracious hostess for his social dinners. Sadly, Edgar died after only ten years of marriage, and Mollie deeply mourned her husband. She never remarried or had another beau. She did remain socially active for the sake of Mable. I have wonderful photographs from their marriage. Edgar was a handsome man with very blue smiling eyes and a handlebar mustache. His kind nature shows in every picture.

    gcwhiskas at aol dot com

  5. I can’t imagine marrying someone I didn’t know. All I can say is, they were brave women. The only thing funny that happened to me at a wedding was when my ex promised to be a loving and hateful husband instead of loving and faithful. When we got divorced, I told him he had lived up to it.

  6. Good morning, Pam. It is greedy of me to root for the home team when the Saints haven’t been to the dance. How low can I go? LOL Seriously, may the best team win.

    Thanks so much for asking a blessing on my writing and the writing of all authors here at P&P! God bless you.

    Hugs, Janet

  7. Hi Cathy Ann, I’m delighted you enjoyed The Substitute Bride! Thanks for your kind words–music to an author’s ears.

    Another Saints fan? Where are my Colts buddies????


  8. Tibitha, you make an interesting observation. If a person was illiterate or not good at expressing themselves on paper, they had less of a chance at finding a mate. Or maybe they were just good liars. LOL


  9. Virginia, thanks for sharing your great-grandmother’s story! In years past, many women married for practical reasons that had nothing to do with love. Yet, like your grandmother fell in love with their spouse. Even today, arranged marriages thrive and are routine in some cultures.


  10. Linda, your ex’s slip of tongue wasn’t funny after all. Sorry.

    I’m with you. I can’t imagine marrying a stranger. But a woman’s options were few in those days. One of the main alternatives to marriage was working as a servant. Of course that pretty well described a homemaker’s life. LOL


  11. Janet!! Just stopping by to say how MUCH I LOVED Substitute Bride!! It was a WONDERFUL read, and I loved the hero, Ted Logan — HUBBA, HUBBA!!

    Don’t enter me because I am already lucky enough to have a copy of SB, but what’s up your sleeve next???


  12. Janet,

    I enjoy reading historical fiction novels and about mail order brides. This sounds like it will be very interesting. Please enter me in the drawing.


  13. My mom’s parents had a marriage of convenience.
    He was a Nebraska farmer with an 8th grade education. She was a Washington State librarian with a master’s degree and a concert level pianist. Her father was a judge.

    She’s been friends in college with my grandfather’s first wife. When his first wife died giving birth to their SECOND child, she asked him, when she was dying, to marry her old college friend LAtta.
    He did.
    He exchanged letters with her, not too many, then proposed in a letter, then rode out on the train from Nebraska to Washington, married her out there, and brought her home to his farm.

    They had their first child 16 months later. So clearly my grandpa didn’t learn his lesson. 🙂


    They were by all accounts absolutely well suited and happy in their marriage. My mom was their fourth child.

    I’ve started writing that story a couple of times and I’ve gotten pretty far into it but always stopped. Unlike most novels I’ve written which are begun from the spark on an idea, this one, it just seems like I’m LYING. So I keep stopping.

  14. Hi Janet,That book sounds so interesting,wow,I love the story line,no I didnt have any family members who married like that,or if they did they didnt tell anyone,lol,an Im for the Colts too! Being a mail order bride is almost like internet dating today,you fall in love an then meet,might make a good story line too someday,huh,I met my husband on the internet,an weve been happily married for 8 yrs

  15. I don’t know if any of my ancestors married for convenience. Something I would have to look into. I would really love to read your book though:) It sounds great!!

  16. Thanks Julie! Your kind words have me grinning like a Cheshire Cat!

    I’m working on the next Love Inspired Historical. This one is about unwed mothers, a hot button topic in 1900. Thanks for asking.


  17. Janet,

    The Substitute Brides sounds like a book I’d love. I don’t really know how my grandparents got together since they were born and married in the late 1800s, but they lived long lives, and I remember them from when I was a child. They were married 72 years before they died, and at the time, were the longest married couple in the town I live in.

  18. Mary, I love your grandparent’s story! Write it. Embellishing isn’t lying, it’s storytelling. You’re a fabulous storyteller!

    Thanks for sharing your family’s history! Hope they get to see it in print one day.


  19. Hey, Vickie, Colts’ fan buddy, great to see you here. You’re so right. The Internet is the way singles hook up today. You’re living proof of its success. Thanks for sharing and congratulations!


  20. Hi Janet The Substitute Bride sounds wonderful.I enjoy reading all of your books.Please enter me in the giveaway.Thank you.

  21. Good Morning Janet

    Love Mail Order Bride Stories and this one sound great. My husband and I met in October of 1987 and we were married that November. We met on an arranged date by my friend and his cousin. When I met him it was as if we had known each other forever. Guess I got luck!.

    I am a Payton Manning Fan but I always go for the underdog.

  22. ooooh!!! I really enjoy mail-order bride stories!! I have always been interested in the concept of two strangers, often from different parts of a country, marrying each other based on an ad… In fact, I hope to write a story with a mail-order bride in it myself!

    I’m looking forward to reading your story! 🙂

  23. I’m coming up dry on this one. I can’t think of anyone I know marrying for convenience, and I can’t think of any funny or interesting incidences at weddings I’ve attended. Like many, my own wedding is clear in my memory. I remember my husband sweating buckets in what looked like a penguin suit in the non-air-conditioned church. Good thing I wasn’t late!

    What you HAVE reminded me of is that video that keeps getting sent around with the wedding party doing an energetic dance down the aisle:

    Have a great day!

  24. My grandparents came from Sicily and my mom’s mother had an arranged marriage. She did have some say (I think she did turn the first guy down) but took the second. He was going to America and that’s mostly what she cared about. They were married for over 50 years!

    Go Saints (lol).

  25. I love mail order bride stories, their on of my favorite stories! That I know of I don’t think anyone in my family had an arranged marriage. Your book sounds fabulous and I would love to read it.

  26. Jeanne, my great-grandparents came over from Sicily too!!! They met on the boat though and got married…I wonder if we are from the same area??

    I love mail order bride stories. I could see why they would do it. I married someone I barely knew, I thought he was cute, sweet and funny, but I did not have a clue of what love was, it just seemed like when he wanted to marry me, the right thing to do, cause I liked him. He barely spoke English and since we had only met only once like 4 months before, it was like marrying a stranger.
    At our wedding, I lost my voice the day before and had a fever of 104…it was fun! I had to take pain medication just to get through the day!

  27. I enjoyed the post… mail order bride stories are fascinating… the strength those women had to go towards the unknown…

  28. Janet, I’m probably dragging up the rear welcoming you to P&P so late. But we’re thrilled to have you visit with us again. It’s always a pleasure.

    Mail order bride stories are my favorite plots. There’s just built in conflict that you don’t find in other scenerios. My mother wasn’t a mail order bride but she and my dad did marry for convenience. It was at the height of the Great Depression and they did it to simply survive. Everyone had to kinda pool their resources to make it back then. Their marriage lasted over 50 years until my dad passed away. While they weren’t in love when they married, they came to love each other deeply. I’m sure that was the case of all mail order brides.

    Your new book will definitely go on my “buy” list. It sounds wonderful.

  29. By the way, I’m rooting for the Saints. Sorry. They are such a Cinderella team that it’d be hard to root against them. Besides, the Colts have won too many times. I say give someone else a chance to know what it feels like.

  30. Hi Janet, fabulous post. Minda in my current releast Marrying Minda is a MOB…who finds herself married to the wrong guy. No mail-order brides in my family.

    I managed to faint as a bridesmaid at an Arkansas wedding on a July day of about 100 degrees and endless humidity. Go figure. Only time in my life I’ve ever passed out. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

    I have definitely got your book on my TBR list. Thanks for spending time with us at the junctoin today!

  31. Love your cover of the book. Great blog .. Now speaking of Colts, you will have to keeep your fingers crossed for who wins the super bowl.

  32. Hi Sherry, Wow, one month from meeting to marriage. You and your husband remind me of my parents. Their first date was arranged. My father told me it was love at first sight. He could even describe the shoes my mom wore sixty years later. 🙂

    I’ll cheer on Payton for both of us.


  33. Hi Kim, wishing you all the best with your own mail-order bride story! You might want to get Enss’s book. She gives examples of advertisements that are very interesting.


  34. Hi Jeannie, I’m impressed so many had the courage to travel across the ocean to a new life and leave behind family they might never see again. Where did your grandparents settle in this country? Have you or your parents visited Sicily?


  35. Thank you, Linda, for your warm welcome and taking the time to tell your parents’ marriage of convenience story. Not all mail-order bride stories worked out, but I’m guessing most did. Maybe their goal wasn’t happiness as much as a partnership.

    It’s been fun to see how many have an interest in the Super Bowl game. Over at Seekerville, a group blog I belong to– –it’s been suggested we forgo the game to write. Not this gal. 🙂


  36. Thanks, Tanya, for the warm welcome. You’ve given a tiny taste of your MOB story and now I will have to read the book to find out what happened to Minda.


  37. I love mail-order bride stories. I think, since women in the past had even less say in who they married than they do now, answering an advertisement must have felt like a way of having some control over one’s future. And I’m sure mail order brides – and grooms – did their best to make things work, as they had little choice once they signed on the dotted line. The mail-order bride plotline is a great one because it’s a great way of bringing together people who might not have chosen each other any other way. The characters in my mail-order bride story, McShannon’s Chance, certainly wouldn’t have. That’s what makes these stories fun to write and to read.

  38. Janet,

    Great Post. I have put your book on my must read list. I love mail order bride stories. It is so interesing to see how things work out and if they work out the way I hope they do

    Thanks for sharing

    Walk in harmony,

  39. I’ll have to pick up your book. I did see it in the store the other day. A friend of mine has done extensive research on Asa Mercer and the Seattle Brides. Its one of my favorite past times to chat with her. A Very interesting story. Good luck with your books.

    Nan Obe

  40. None of my ancestors married for convenience that I know of? However, I’d love to win this book. Thanks

    ABreading4fun [at] gmail [dot] com

  41. The story of Eleanor is scary. Im glad they stopped her from killing herself.
    At a friends wedding. We knew the mother would cry but as brides’s father gave her away and said a few words, bride started crying as did most of the crying. a hankie was pasted down the line to her. Her father and mother and even half the mail attendents were crying. It was was touching but it was also funny as half the congregation was crying also and I had this urge to laugh. The Minister made a funny comment as only he could and everyone started laughing.
    It was a lovely wedding.

  42. My brother and his wife met thanks to the matchmaking of a friend who knew them both. They dated for only a couple months before my brother proposed and within the year they were married. If only we all had such insightful friends.

    Your new book sounds great! Who doesn’t love a good mail-order bride story? They’re one of my favorites to read about and the real-life story’s are very interesting as well.

  43. Enjoyed reading the comments. The book sounds so good I have added it to my TBR list.
    I attended a wedding once where half way through the ceremony the bride started screaming and fussing. A bee had been in her bouquet and had stung her on the neck. Took awhile for the ceremony to finish but she was alright later on.

  44. Great post Janet, I found it to be very interesting reading. I love mail order bride stories and can’t wait to read yours. I don’t know if any of my ancestors married for convenience, but would be interesting to find out. Your book sounds great!

  45. Hi Jennie, great point! My groom and bride wouldn’t have chosen each other either if they’d known what they were getting into. But once they overcame the conflicts between them and the dust settled, they’re exactly right for each other, the perfect couple with the promise of happy ever after. Love mail-order bride stories!


  46. Hi Melinda, I love that you said to walk in harmony, since the setting for The Substitute Bride is New Harmony, a fictional town in Iowa. I loved using the town’s name for what Ted and Elizabeth needed so badly.


  47. Hi Nan, thanks for the sighting of The Substitute Bride and your interest in my story. It isn’t in the WalMart near me yet. But it will be Tuesday. I’ll go visit Elizabeth and Ted on the shelves. Stick a bookmark inside. And wish them safe travel. 🙂


  48. Hey, Jenny! Love the weeping wedding account. My husband always tears up at weddings. He doesn’t even have to know the bride and groom. Wonder what’s behind that? LOL

  49. Amy, I wonder why blind dates and set ups have gotten such a bad rap? They seem pretty successful.

    Thanks for your interest in The Substitute Bride!


  50. Wow, Joye, a screaming bride had to shake the groom for a few minutes there. Good thing she wasn’t allergic to bee stings.

    Thanks for adding The Substitute Bride to your TBR pile.


  51. Hi Becky, thanks for your interest in The Substitute Bride. Maybe if you ask some of your living relatives, you’ll find some fascinating stories in your own family.


  52. Hi Cathy, thanks for the interesting tidbit. I’m sure the lack of men in the East and lack of women in the West had a huge impact on why spouses were sought through the mail. The phenonmena went on for years, well into the 1900s, probably due to economics.


  53. There was a TV show on when I was a child about a ship load of “mail order brides”. I think it was called “Here Come the Brides”. Wasn’t it about that bunch of ladies brought to Washington for those men? Deb.

  54. In my previous past life I was from Southern Italy where I knew my husband for many years before we married. This was in the 70’s sometime, and my mother picked him. We were friends since we were about 7 or 8 and then when I was nineteen we married. He was only a few years older than I.

    We fought sometimes and all of that, but it was a good marriage (a truly romantic one) but he was not Italian.

    Since my mother was Spanish it is possible that it had some influence on him not being Italian.

    Anyways, I do not believe that arranged marriages are a bad thing but you should know who you are marrying and your kid should agree.

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