What the mail order bride ad says: Traditionally built
What the ad means: Better reinforce the floors
I’ve always loved mail order bride stories. So imagine my delight when I was invited to write one for a collection with Mary Connealy, Robin Lee Hatcher and Debra Clapton. The result is A Bride for All Seasons, our June release.
The brides in our book all found their matches through the Hitching Post Mail Order Bride Catalogue, a marriage broker for the discerning, lonely or desperate .
Thanks to the editorial talents of the Hitching Post owner, the most undesirable man or woman could, with a stroke of the pen, become a highly desirable candidate—at least on paper.
Our four trusting heroines don’t have the foggiest idea what they’re getting into. But then neither did the thousands of women who traveled west during the 1800s to marry men known only through letter correspondence.
What the mail order bride ad says: Loving spirit
What the ad means: Keep her away from the cowhands
The 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. Not only did the war create thousands of widows but also a shortage of men, especially in the south.
As a result, “Heart and Hand” catalogues popped up around the country. According to an article in the Toledo Blade, 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).
Ads averaged five to fifteen cents and letters were exchanged along with photographs. It cost as much as five dollars to send a letter by Pony Express and it took ten days for delivery. Often the wax seals melted in the desert heat, causing the letter to be thrown away before reaching its destination.
Not all marriage brokers were legitimate and many a disappointed client ended up with an empty bank account rather than a contracted mate.
What the mail order bride ad says: Maternal
What the ad means: Has six children and one on the way
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 one another 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 is said to have lasted an hour.
No one seems to know how many mail order brides traveled west 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.