Vickie McDonough: Mail Order Brides—Matrimonial Mayhem?

“Wanted: A girl who will love, honest, true not sour; a nice little cooing dove and willing to work in flour.”

“I am 33 years of age, and as regards looks can average with most men. I am looking for a lady to make her my wife, as I am heartily tired of bachelor life. I desire a lady not over 28 or 30 years of age, not ugly, well educated and musical. Nationality makes no difference, only I prefer not to have a lady of Irish birth. She must have at least $20,000.” (Yeah, good luck with that, Mister)

Mail order brides have been a part of American history since 1619, when the first white women arrived in Jamestown. The Virginia Company of London sent several shipments of mail-order brides to America, in exchange for tobacco, so it’s no surprise these ladies became known as tobacco brides.

With the westward expansion of the U.S. frontier, the popularity of mail-order brides exploded. Men traveled west for adventure, to get free land, and to find gold, but once they settled and the lust for adventure wore off, they realized something vital was missing—decent women—the kind a man wanted to raise his children.

At the same time war, disease, and the lack of quality medicine, left many woman widowed, fatherless, or spinsters. With little means of support and few jobs available for women, these desperate gals often became mail-order brides. Marrying a stranger and having a home and children to tend seemed a far better alternative to working twelve hours a day in a sweat shop, or even worse, being forced to become a kept woman or a prostitute.

Even though readers love mail-order bride stories, which usually have a happy ending, in truth, many of these marriages failed. But it wasn’t always the woman who was disappointed, sometimes the man was the unhappy one. Here’s an eye-opening advertisement warning men to be cautious and women to be truthful:

NOTICE: Due to the influx of Eastern “mail-order brides” into our community & the hasty marriages that follow, several complaints have been lodged by no longer happy grooms.

Let it be known that any marriage into which a man is seduced by the use of:
False hair
Cosmetic paints
Artificial bosoms (they actually had those back then?)
Bolstered hips (and why would you want these?)
Padded limbs (uh…no thanks)
without the man’s knowledge, shall stand null & void if he so desires.

-Judge John H. Arbuckle
Dated April 3, 1873


(Note: This warning first appeared in several issues of Matrimonial News. It was reprinted in Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-order Brides by Chris Enss, as were the two advertisements at the beginning of this article)

Hmm…I’m guessing that men must have liked fuller women back then. Can’t you imagine the surprise of some farmer as his new wife undressed on their wedding night and removed her big dress, false hair, fake bosoms, and hip and limb pads. She went from stout to scrawny. J

Needless to say, we still have mail-order brides today, but you hear about few happy endings. For a romance though, a happy ending is crucial. This was my year of writing mail-order brides stories, and I guaranteed you a HEA.

Second Chance Brides is book two in my Texas Boardinghouse Brides series. Here’s a short blurb: Shannon O’Neil and Leah Bennett, are stranded in Lookout, Texas, without husbands or future plans. Thankfully, the marshal has ordered the rascally Corbett brothers to pay for the women’s lodging at the boardinghouse, but will the brothers’ idea of hosting Saturday socials really bring these women the kind of loves they long for? Will Shannon choose to marry just for security? Will Leah reject love when the challenges mount?

Ride the transcontinental railroad as marriage arrives by mail-order—and just in time for Christmas. Annika arrives in Wyoming to discover her intended is missing. Jolie’s journey to Nevada is derailed by disaster. Elizabeth carries a load of secrets to Nebraska. And Amelia travels to California to wrap up her final attempts at matchmaking. Will the holiday season be the ticket to spark love in unexpected ways?

So, do you have a favorite mail-order bride book that you’ve read—or do you have an interesting mail-order bride story in your family heritage? Leave a comment to get your name in the drawing for a copy of Christmas Mail Order Brides.
Thanks for inviting me to be a guest again on Petticoats & Pistols. I love this website and always enjoy my time here.


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Vickie McDonough

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33 thoughts on “Vickie McDonough: Mail Order Brides—Matrimonial Mayhem?”

  1. Thanks for a laugh to start my day, Vickie!

    Just thinking about the insecurities of women even back then made me smile. But you have to figure if they couldn’t find someone back home, there were reasons.

    I figure men wanted women with a little meat on their bones because life was so hard where ever they were living. They had to start off stout to survive! On the other hand, one of the best lines I heard about why hard working men like fuller women was from one of Catherine Anderson’s books, which I can only paraphrase. “Molly was so soft. The rest of his life was so hard.” Hard work, hard animals, hard ground when bucked off horses.

    Good grief, an essay…you can see why I love mail order bride stories. I feel so sorry for these lonely men 🙂

    peace, Julie

  2. Vickie,thanks for such a great post,I think in some places there are still mail order brides,an that Christmas book looks just too yummy,Christmas books are my favorite to read,they always leave you with a warm an toasty feeling,or at least they do me,I wouldnt have wanted to be a mail order bride,can you imagine how hard that must have been!

  3. I enjoyed the post Vickie. I am currently reading (should finish today), The Anonymous Bride and I am absolutely loving it. Looking forward to reading Second Chance Brides as well. I love books set at Christmas time so I know I would love Christmas Mail Order Brides. Would love to win a copy.

    Many Blessings,
    Cindy W.


  4. I’ve always been intrigued by the mail-order-bride situation. I can’t imagine going across the country to marry a total stranger. I do enjoy stories about them and love holiday stories.

  5. I like this theme! I can’t imagine the emotions these ladies must have felt: fear, anxiety, and hope!

    Linda Howard Duncan’s Bride
    Debbie Macomber had Brides For Brothers
    Lorraine Heath- Texas Destiny
    Jill Marie Landis- Come Spring
    Lavyrle Spencer- The Endearment

    Your Christmas themed Mail order bride book sounds perfect!

  6. I am always fond of Mail Order Bride stories. I can’t imagine how brave those women must’ve been. I always wondered, how could they not be terrified that their new husband could be abusive or just down right gross…

    I also love Christmas theme books too! I’ll have to seek this one out on the shelves.

  7. Welcome to Wildflower Junction today, Vickie. Oh I so want wait to read this book…Mail-order brides and Christmas! Howza! My Marrying Minda is such a bride…who travels to Nebraska and finds herself married to the wrong man. But, oh he’s a hottie and they do have an HEA.

    Cracked me up, the padded bosoms and all. What a wonderful, wonderful post!

  8. I love mail-order bride books. I just finished reading The Anonymous Bride last night and loved it. Christmas stories are another favorite of mine. I’d love to win a copy.

  9. Thanks for the neat blog!
    I know I have read one or two mail-order books, but they were probably at least five years ago, so I have no idea as to their titles or authors. So sorry.
    No mail-order stories that I can recall either.
    Gee, I’m just not too helpful today!!!

  10. Julie, I’m glad l made you laugh. With so many women dieting these days, it’s hard to imagine women wanting to “enhance” their figures. Cindy & Cathy, it’s great to hear you enjoyed The Anonymous Bride. 🙂 Laurie, thanks for sharing that list of books. I love Jill’s books and didn’t know about the one you mentioned.

    Stephanie, Linda, & Vickie – you can’t help admiring mail-order brides. They must have been very brave or terribly desperate–either way they are fun to read about.

    Tanya – I love the premise of your book. I’m going to have to get a copy.

    Thanks for stopping by today!

  11. I really enjoy mail order bride stories, I can’t say I have a favorite one, they all seem to be really good. Your book sound fabulous and I would love to read it. I also enjoy reading Christmas books so I know I would enjoy your books. I really enjoyed your post today!

  12. I love that aspect of historical western romances, the whole concept of the mail order bride. I can’t think of any off the top of my head, though I did just read one in a Harlequin Anthology by Jenna Kernan that was good.

  13. I will have to second the Quilt Lady’s post word for word.

    the mail order bride stories are right up there with the Texas Ranger stories.

  14. Hi Vickie, welcome back to P&P. We love it when you come. And what an interesting blog. I love those old newspaper ads for brides. My, those men were picky. Seeing as how desperate they were to gain a bride, looks like they’d be happy with whatever they got. I’m sure a lot of those marriages didn’t last too long.

    My favorite mail order bride book was Linda Lael Miller’s HIGH COUNTRY BRIDE. That story was so good.

    Enjoy your stay with us and come back again soon.

  15. I like the fantasy of mail order brides. I guess a person can get use to a lot of things if necessary but the fact that they were getting married with someone sight unseen seems extremely risky. I wonder if there was any way out for either party or maybe if it was a mutual decision.

  16. I love mail order bride stories. I have Chris Enss’s book on mail order brides as well as several of her others. Desperation then, and now, seems to be responsible for many of these women heading into the unknown. A hard life awaited many of them, not because of any fault of the men involved, but because of the times and work necessary to live. As you said, that was much better than many of them had to look forward to if they didn’t take the chance.
    I recognize many of the books mentioned above. I can’t really pick a favorite. I have read so many and am always looking for more. I will definitely be looking for your books.

  17. I can’t remember the title just this minute, but there was a mail-order bride book turned into a Hallmark movie that I loved starring Keri Russell and Skeet Ulrich.

  18. That was a great post… loved the warning placed in Matrimonial News! I have read a few that I really enjoyed… the journeys to their HEAs are wonderful to read. Have to add a few listed above to my list to read!

  19. I have read several mail order bride stories but
    can’t recall titles right now, there were also a couple of Harvey Girl styled books which I enjoyed.
    I just got a “3 in one” copy of the Texas trilogy by
    Lorraine Heath, so I’ll be reading the above-men-
    tioned Texas Destiny very soon. Thanks for an
    interesting topic!

    Pat Cochran

  20. Summer-that movie with Kerri Russel was The Magic of Ordinary Days. I grew up about 20 miles from La Junta, Colorado where that story takes place. It is based on fact.
    Enjoyed reading the comments and like those kinds of stories because both the hero and the heroine have challenges not seen in most love stories. Your book sounds so good.

  21. I’m at a book festival today, and I’m sitting next to a woman whose grandma was a mail-order bride to Alaska. She and her future husband met through a correspondance club. He came 2500 miles in 1915 to Chillicothe, MO from Wrangle, AK to meet her. They got married Sunday morning and got on the train to go back to AK Sunday afternoon. If you want to read the full story, visit M. Carolyn Steele’s website:

    Isn’t that interesting? Warning: not all mail-order bride stories have happy endings.

  22. I can’t imagine marrying a complete stranger!
    I have read a couple of mail order bride stories, but can’t remember the titles.
    Your Christmas book sounds wonderful!

  23. wow–what an interesting post!
    it’s just so hard to imagine…’specially back then
    there was no hopping on a plane, flying out and then seeing how it went
    you had to travel forever just to get there–then were sometimes isolated with a stranger and expected to be his wife
    sight unseen
    are you kidding me?
    i don’t know if i could come up with /$20,000 lol—and i sure wouldn’t want a man who needed me to come with money–wouldn’t feel very secure

    i love mail order bride stories
    such an exciting sort of concept!
    your books look great–i see Second Chance Brides has great reviews!

  24. I recently read an anthology of mail order marriages and don’t remember the title. I usually like the stories but can’t help but wonder how many actual mail order brides had a happy ending. When you consider the alternatives many of them faced, marrying a stranger was probably the best choice.

  25. I love mail order bride stories. Guess that we still have a version of that today with the on line meeting places. They tend to know more about each other before they actually meet today.
    Looking forward to reading these books.

  26. I actually met a woman who is a mail order bride from Russia. She and her husband seemed really happy after quite a few years and she was pretty and nice, not a great beauty, but okay. I thought it was very strange.

  27. Oh, and my mother’s mother was almost a mail order bride. She was my grandpa’s second wife and a good friend of his first wife who died in childbirth.
    Knowing she was dying, she told my grandfather she wanted her old friend Latta to raise their older child and he was to marry her.

    After a brief correspondence, this was in 1920, she lived in Washington state and he lived in Nebraska, they agreed to marry. He rode out on the train, married her and brought her back to Nebraska. They were, my mom’s impression, very happy and had four children together, the first born about 14 months after their wedding so you know, it was a REAL marriage.

    And they were married for fifty years.

  28. That’s an amazing story, Mary–gives me an idea for a book. 😀

    I know a man who met a woman in China online. They communicated for a while, and then he asked her to marry him. They’ve been married seven or eight years now.

    It’s so interesting to read all of your comments about mail-order brides. I have to agree with Tabitha, I’d be leery of a man who insisted the bride was in possession of a large sum of money before he married her. Ooo, that gives me another story idea.

  29. Hi Vickie!
    What a wonderful post–so full of humor as well as information. I don’t know if I would be able to marry someone that I’d never seen either. But I guess it’s all a matter of the alternative, right? One book that I absolutely LOVED was Jim Fergus’ ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN, in which women who were in asylums and whorehouses and such were offered this chance to go west and marry with Indians to assimilate their children into the white world. What an interesting book that was, but oh, did I use the kleenex before I was done with it. LOL Great story though, and it was based on something that almost actually happened in our history. Your books sound wonderful. I’ve always loved the idea of the mail order brides, just don’t think I could be one.
    Glad you are here with us today!
    Cheryl P.

  30. Vickie, thanks for stopping by P&P and sharing a great post with us. I loved it. I had no idea that they had padded bosoms in those days. The warning sure made me laugh. I can only imagine what some men went through “discovering” the good and the bad of their new bride; but then the women had the same problem. I’m sure it was pretty much like some of today’s matchmaking web site where the pictures sure don’t match the men or woman when they come face to face. I’m pretty certain that all the pioneer men weren’t totally honest in their quest for a woman. Thanks for a fun post. Hugs from Texas, Phyliss

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