When a Terrible War Leads to Romance~guest Janet Tronstad

A big Wildflower Welcome to Janet today! Please leave a comment for the name draw for a print version of Mail-Order Mistletoe Brides!

I’m Janet Tronstad (USA Today Bestselling author with Harlequin Love Inspired) – waving to those I’ve chatted with when I’ve been a guest here before.  I’m delighted to be with you again today. This time I’m talking about a time when a dreadful war led to widespread romance – the story of the Civil War and the Old West mail-order bride.

Tronstad_Janet-close_crop (2)

My good friend, Jillian Hart, and I recently did some interviews with Amazing Books, a modest Chicago-based cable program, and I talked about the impact the Civil War had on matrimony in the United States. See excerpt of my part on You-Tube at


So many men died in the war, primarily on the east coast, that for decades later there was a lack of marriageable men and, with the Civil War widows, an increase in women seeking marriage.  Estimates say that in 1865 there were as many as 30,000 single women on the east coast – women who wanted to marry and had no hope of doing so.

I’m going to stop right now and ask you. What would you be willing to risk to find love? How far would you travel? What uncertainty would you face?

Tronstad cover

These women in the late 1800’s were willing to risk everything to find a husband. As we all know, single women had limited economic resources in those days. What jobs they might find were generally poorly paid and often came with an uncertain future. Being single, they would also have no children, a fact that grieved many of them.

They were truly desperate for marriage, but they weren’t the only ones.

A large number of men in the Plains also had little chance of matrimony because so few single women lived there. This led some enterprising souls to set up ‘heart and hand’ catalogs, folded double sheets and broadsides devoted exclusively to ads for people seeking marriage. In addition magazines like Ladies Home Journal started running regular matrimonial columns (at one point, the magazine declared Wyoming a heaven for spinsters and widows).Tronstad Christmas bride

I have been fascinated with the lives of these women who were willing to risk marriage to a stranger in hopes of finding love and family. When I became aware of the plight of these women, I started to imagine the meetings that took place at railroad stations all across the West as the brides met their promised husbands for the first time.

This is the inspiration and backdrop for the series of Mail-Order bride books that Jillian Hart and I have written for the last several Christmases.  Each of these stories starts when the train arrives in town. The third of these annual books, ‘Mail-Order Mistletoe Brides,’ comes out on December 1.  It tells the stories of Mercy Jacobs who marries for the sake of her young son and Maeve Flanagan who has a secret her promised husband knows nothing about.  Each bride arrives in the Montana Territory just before Christmas.

Tronstad Holiday bride

Again, I’d like you to picture yourself in their place.  Would you marry a stranger for security?  For the hope of children?  For help raising (and in some cases feeding) the children you already have? After you answer, put yourself in the time period of these women, with the limitations you would have in your life. Then decide how you would answer.

Trust me, these are questions I have wrestled with as I’ve written these books (we have three mail-order bride books out now – see covers of the two others here).  Let me know your answers.  I’m curious.


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36 thoughts on “When a Terrible War Leads to Romance~guest Janet Tronstad”

  1. Janet, I’m first to comment, lucky me!!! You know how much I love you and have read every book you’ve ever written! We’ve talked about your questions above….tough to know what you would do in those hard circumstances and it was such a different time than we live in now! I can’t wait to read the book now that it’s done…I know what you went through to finish it!

  2. Hello Janet. Glad to see you. I love the Mail Order Brides books. Always interesting. Think I’d have to say It would be very hard to do this having no idea if you might get someone who would be mean to you or completely different from who you would want to raise a family with. But, with things being the way I hear for women back then I think I would pray and draw courage from GOD and ask HIM to help me find the right one, and then jump right in. BUT, would definitely be a very scary thing to do. Moving to a place you don’t know and meeting your future husband who you have never seen. I would love to read your books. Love the covers.
    Thanks for a chance to win. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

  3. Hi Janet, this is a question I struggled with when writing my own mail order bride story. I think given the right circumstances most of us would do it. I know I would. There was a shortage of eligible men in some parts of the country after the war and everyone felt the call of the West. It would be scary, though.

  4. Well, I traveled from California to Indiana to marry my husband who I was in music class with in high school, had a crush on him, but he was oblivious to me. So I knew him but didn’t reall KNOW him. It’s actually a Cinderella story of sorts and we have now been married 12 1/2 years. 🙂

    Would I travel to a foreign place back in the 1800s? I think that would depend upon my circumstances. Would I be leaving family that I loved behind? Was I happy where I was at? Did the ‘groom’ sound like he could be my soul mate? Did God lead me to go after praying about it? So many questions would need to be answered. Actually, I asked all those questions when my husband contacted me 32 years after high school.

    I would love to win a copy of Mail Order Mistletoe Brides

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  5. Great question. You never know what you will do until you are faced with it. I do love the mail order bride stories. I love all your books so I can’t wait for this one

  6. I love these books…..would love to win yours!
    Not sure what I would do; things are so different nowadays…but guess I would hang in there and do what I had to do!!

  7. I think in those days it was a woman’s lot in life to depend on a man for support. I believe I would have ventured out West for security and hopefully, eventually love and children.

    Now a days woman and men are still taking a gamble on love via internet dating. I would have a hard time taking a leap of faith today as women have more choices regarding jobs and financial security. You don’t need a man but I sure would want a companion.

  8. I always enjoy mail-order bride stories! It is hard to imagine traveling across the country to marry a stranger, but you never really know what you would do until you are in that situation. I certainly would have been nervous and afraid!

  9. Welcome back, Janet! It’s always a delight when you come to blog. And what an interesting subject. I cannot imagine how it would be to travel to a place I didn’t know and marry a stranger. I don’t know that I’d have that much courage. I guess it would’ve depended on how much I wanted a home and family. I’d have had to be desperate for sure. I’m certain a great many of these women were. They were chasing dreams of a better life. And maybe an escape from the circumstances they were in. Whatever the reasons, it’s a fascinating subject. I guess that’s why mail order bride books are so popular.

    Your books are amazing. Wishing you much success!

  10. Janet thank you for your great post and great writings!!! I think considering the time and knowing how women really needed a man for so many things, I would be a mail order bride. I know of the dangers but I also know of the dangers not to. I wonder though if there could be a better screening process. maybe while writing my husband to be (fictional)I would also write a letter to the town sheriff asking about the husband to be character. but most of all its a big leap of faith.

  11. Thanks, everyone! I’m glad to be here with you. And delighted to see that most of you would have taken the leap to become a mail-order bride if your situation was desperate enough.

  12. Hmmm, stepping into their shoes at the time, I think I would venture out as a mail order bride… would hope for the best. Thanks for sharing with us today… I love mail order bride stories! Happy Holidays!

  13. I think I would given the circumstances those women faced.. But I do wonder if there were a lot of women who married and then deserted their husbands when the man didn’t tell the truth about his circumstances… I thought that the Fred Harvey girls were pretty smart to have a job and be able to judge men — as was Fred with the whole concept of good food and pretty girls…

  14. Welcome, Janet! What a great idea for a series!!! And congrats on hitting the USA Today Bestseller list! So well deserved. I don’t think I would have had the guts to travel across country to marry a stranger. Then again, desperation can make us all do things we wouldn’t normally do under different conditions. Love the covers, by the way! Wonderful!

  15. I think people will do anything to survive. It would have been a frightening thing to be a mail-order bride and not know who the strange person it you were marrying. Strangers in those days seemed to have a certain justice about them-they were different than the men of this age. Most were farmers or workers who needed a bride to satisfy some situation they were in. If they just wanted a woman, there were places they could go for that.

  16. So good to see so many of you here. Cate, I have wondered, too, about how many of the women ran away. I’m not sure how easy that would have been to do, but if they were in a truly awful situation I can only hope they found a way.

  17. Your question is one I’ve considered many times when I’ve read other mail-order bride stories. The me of today doesn’t know if I could do this, however the times were much different back in that day and time. Depending on my family, I would probably have to consider this option. Kind of scary to think about it though.

  18. I think that we have mail order marriages happening still with the internet. There have in fact several in my family that have turned out well. On the other hand there was one that did not. I think that today’s brides can know more about their grooms with the internet because everything is so instant. Would I do it? If I needed it to survive the world I think I would have.

    I enjoy mail order bride stories and LOVE the covers of your books!

  19. Janet, I have always been fascinated with the stories of mail order brides.
    As for myself I probably would have went. I guess it would depend on circumstances but if you wanted a family it was probably the only way to have one.
    I am truly amazed The Ladies Home Journal carried ads. I have read that magazine for at least 30 years and never would have guessed that.
    Thanks I really enjoyed your post.

  20. Hi Janet, welcome today to Petticoats and Pistols! I actually love the idea of mail order brides and used one in a book…and another, actually, in my Wishing for a Cowboy anthology story. The thing is…I like to imagine EACH real bride had a happy ending! Best wishes to you on your lovely book.

  21. Jackie — I don’t think personal ads were quite as (not sure what the word is — maybe common) in those days as they are in ours. I’d have to do some research to be sure, but reputable newspaopers carried them, too, and did not (I’m guessing here) see anything amiss in doing so.

    Tanya — I like to imagine every bride with a happy ending as well (Maybe why we’re romance novelists).

  22. Welcome back to the Junction, Janet! So happy to have you visit with us again.

    I don’t think I would have the courage to leave everything to marry a man I’ve only met through letters. I’ve moved around the country a lot, and tried lots of things I wouldn’t have had I stayed in my small southern Illinois hometown, but I had my DH at my side. Alone? Probably not. Great question to think about, though, Janet.

  23. Tracy — I think doing it alone would be one of the hardest parts. That’s why Jillian and I write about women who meet going west on the train and become friends during the journey. That way they each have someone in Montana when they get there.

  24. Love mail order bride books.I guess it would depend on a lot of things as to weather I would marry a stranger. If it meant my only means to get buy yes I probably would.

  25. I have thought about it before too. I’m not sure if I would have or not. I think I am sort of adventurous that I just might do it if I really wanted to have kids bad enough. Good question! Lovely post, too.

  26. I’ve thought about being a mail order bride a few times. My biggest prayer would be that the man I’m to marry would be a kind, caring and somebody that’d take good care of me. The scariest part would be knowing you’d have to be intimate with a stranger and hope that they are patient with you.
    I have yours and Jillian’s book Mail-Order Christmas Brides, it was very good!

  27. Janet,

    I love your Christmas Mail Order Bride books. It would be a scary thing for sure. Not only would you be going to an unknown territory, but the unknown about the man you might end up with would be terrifying. Thank goodness in novels we can give these women good men, this was not always the case. Now, would I do it? Yes.


  28. I would have been so scared to be a mail order bride but you never know when bravery has to overcome. I love the cover of this book and would love to be a winner.

  29. You can’t really be 100% certain what you would do in a situation until you are faced with it. As limited as women’s options were in the 1800’s, I am sure it was a case of take a chance on being a mail-order bride or starve. Some of the women should have had family resources to fall back on, a business or a home, if they had been married before.
    Would I have done it? I think maybe I would have. If you are going to travel a hundred miles or so for a husband, you might as well travel across the country. Chances of going home to visit were probably slim no matter what the distance. I would have been worried about meeting my groom, but would deal with the situation. I am guessing that is what most women had to do.

    Thanks for the thought provoking post. Have a great Thanksgiving.

  30. I want to thank everyone for posting. I have loved hearing your thoughts on what you would do if faced with the need to be a mail-order bride!

  31. Wow! Another thought provoking question. I know that women have had it rough in life..my own grandmother washed dishes in a cafe in Kansas City to keep herself & my mother in food, & a tiny apartment while my granddad was out in Montana trying to homestead to give them a better life. It was hard. If I was in similar situations, again no man around to help or protect I might after writing to get a feel of that unknown man (and I must say I’d have been doing a lot of praying!) take the plunge. Scared, yes, determined, yes, excited, also. We women have that sense of blooming where we are planted, making a bad situation as good as we can with what we have on hand. Women were strong adventurers too, my heroes, making America great. I must say also what great authors are on this site. Great books. I’d love to read this new one. 🙂

  32. If I had family that I could live with and the means to make a living to help out, then I would stay. If I had nothing to lose, then I would have headed west. I’m so glad I wasn’t put in this tough situation.

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