Married by Letter – Mail Order Brides in the West

“…bring letters from a special someone to desiring subscribers in hopes that a match would be made, and the pair would spend the rest of their lives together.”

Matrimonial News – 1870

Fans of Mail-Order Bride Romances adore reading about courageous women. Those brides left home, headed west, and risked everything for a brighter future. We admire brave men who sent for a bride with no more courtship than letters could provide. We enjoy the conflict, hurdles, and challenges the characters face before earning their happy ending.

Many different circumstances contributed to the phenomenon of mail-order brides. The loss of so many men in the War Between the States. The California Gold Rush. Westward expansion. Chinese immigrants working in mining and railways. And more.

Soon, however, Western adventurers lifted their heads from their labors, looked around and felt the absence of one vital element from the bountiful Western territories—women.

Most mail-order brides in the 19th Century American west were single and had very few options–if they wanted marriage, this arrangement could prove their only opportunity. A few had been widowed and often brought children along. Some were runaways. A few dodged the law and hoped to disappear into the Wild West and take on a new identity.

In addition to a brokerage firm to arrange matches (i.e. matchmaker), most men sent notices to friends, relatives or pastors back East. Some, however, sent letters to a periodical devoted entirely to the advancement of marriage. Throughout the 1870s, 80s, and 90s, that periodical was a newspaper called the Matrimonial News. Founded in England, the newspaper gained popularity in the U.S., and was printed in San Francisco and Kansas City.

A code of rule and regulations, posted in each edition was strictly enforced. All advertisers were required to provide information on their personal appearance along with a general description of the kind of persons with whom they desired correspondence.

 

However, men often misrepresented themselves…and so did women. After all, what drunken miner with a worthless claim would expect the truth to attract a wife? What woman would freely admit the truth of her circumstances if she believed doing so would spoil her chances of finding safety, protection, support, and a home?

Most ads were succinct and minimal. Gentlemen’s personals of forty words or under cost $.25 in stamps or postage. Ladies’ personals of forty words or under were published free of charge. The ads were numbered, to avoid giving out names and addresses. Replies were to be sent to the Matrimonial News office sealed in an envelope with the number of the add on the outside.

In Kansas City, Missouri, The New Plan was another publication dedicated to helping eligible men and women find one another, correspond, and marry. A list of the magazine’s aims and methods of business were listed on the back cover of each edition. The simple and easy-to-follow plan promised speedy and satisfactory results. The cost for each advertisement was $1.00. The editors claimed this offer was “the greatest bargain in the world for the money.” If any of the advertisements resulted in matrimony, the subscriber and author of the ad agreed to pay a $5.00 service fee to the magazine.

The New Plan was in circulation from 1911 to 1917.

Another interesting, lovely, and little-known fact (at least to me) was how many young African American women came to the Arizona Territory. The mining camps were filled with young black men and older black widowers—but they weren’t the one who came up with the mail order bride idea. That came from the married African American women already in the territory. They found the presence of so many unattached men in their community “unsettling,” according to Black Women of the Old West by William Loren Katz. “With too few women to go around, the wrong kind of women came to town, and fights among the men were frequent. The answer, they convinced unmarried men, including many widowers, was an arranged marriage to a mail order bride,” he writes. They advertised in newspapers and Eastern churches and many young ladies responded. “Filled with hope, young candidates set out from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Many left lives of poverty, family problems or personal tragedies. Each sought her American dream, a new beginning. They hoped to find the thrill of love, the warmth of family, and a new life.”

Nineteenth Century American newspapers were rife with articles that both support and praise various marital agencies and publications, and point out the perils, disasters, financial losses, broken hearts, and scams. Still, marriage brokers thrived, and men and women continued to seek the elusive dream of finding a spouse, love, family, and a lasting connection.

My Upcoming Release – July 15th

CLICK HERE

As a mail-order bride to a cattleman, Olivia Talbot expected her life would change.

What she didn’t expect upon her arrival was to discover she was a widow before she was a bride.

Things go from bad to worse after Olivia Talbot is let go from her position at the Butterick Pattern Company in Boston and her beloved Auntie Dee passes away. Armed with only her sewing machine and a letter of introduction to Mildred Crenshaw, proprietress of the Westward Home and Hearts Matrimonial Agency she soon finds herself corresponding with a cattleman from Cottonwood Falls, Kansas. Arriving in Kansas, her hopes for a future with Nate Forester are dashed when the handsome sheriff delivers the news, she won’t be getting married.

Sheriff Sam Wright can handle most trouble that comes his way in Cottonwood Falls. Yet, Olivia Talbot’s sapphire eyes and dark curls are a threat of a different kind, and soon she’s taking over his time and his thoughts.
As they grow closer, Olivia begins to hope there may be a future for her and Sam. Soon, however, doubts and fears start to plague her. What if he didn’t care for her as much as she cared for him? What if he fell in love with her only because he felt sorry for her?

But when an outlaw’s bullet threatens to crush the fragile seeds of love, Olivia is faced with losing him even before she has a chance to tell him she cares for him.

Will a leap of faith promise a new beginning?

***GIVEAWAY***

I’m giving away a $10 Amazon to one lucky reader. To be eligible for the drawing, answer the question below:

Had you lived in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, would you have dared start a courtship by letter?

Quilt Week 2024

 

“In the quilt of life, friends are the stitches that hold it together.”

If you read any of my books, my blogs, or my posts, you know that next to creating sweet historical romance, quilting is near and dear to my heart. With that being said, I’m taking you on a virtual tour of Quilt Week 2024.

Since 2000, 6 or 8 or 10 friends get together to quilt, shop, eat, and share lots of laughs. It first started out as a long weekend, then a week, and now has morphed into a ten-day getaway from household chores, husbands, children, grandchildren (although we love them all, girl time is important, too!).

In recent years we’ve rented a 5-bedroom house in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.

Here is what my husband jokingly calls the “sweat shop”!

…and, of course, we require sustenance at home and at Lapp’s Creamery twice a week!

   

Then there was the fabric shopping…a real feast for the eyes! So many choices!

   

I can’t forget the Amish foods at Bird-in-Hand Bakery, Stolzfus meats, Dienner’s Restaurant, and Kitchen Kettle shops!

      

Now, you might be thinking all we did was eat and shop…but you’d be wrong. We worked very hard until 9:00 p.m. Here is a breakdown of the items created and the results of ten days of sewing.

  • 32 quilts
  • 3 table runners
  • 5 wall hangings
  • 1 Christmas tree skirt
  • 1 table topper
  • 3 Diamond Dot decorations
  • 3 pillowcases
  • 3 cosmetic bags

 

 

Every year, prior to quilt week, we have a “challenge” in which we utilize a different theme and donate to hospitals, veterans’ groups, homeless shelters, NICUs, etc. This year we made 17 quilts and a fleece blanket that are being donated to an organization called My Very Own Blanket that will be given to foster children.  https://www.myveryownblanket.org/ 

There you have it…10 days full of sunrises, sunsets, rainbows, ice cream, laughs with women whose friendships span fifty years…I’m one very blessed quilter!

      

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What is your favorite vacation spot to share with family or friends?

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tissue of Dreams by Jo-Ann Roberts

 

Growing up in the 60s (that’s the 1960s!), there weren’t nearly as many clothing choices as we have today. So, when my Aunt Mary offered to teach me how to make my clothes, I jumped at the chance!

(Aunt Mary in light pink dress with her mother, sisters and sisters-in-law)

One of the surprises that awaited me was the choice of folded tissue paper patterns that I could choose. Looking back on it now, I’m not sure how I imagined clothing was made. But from those early sewing lessons, I continued making clothes throughout high school, college, and even into my early years of marriage and motherhood.

Fast forward to the present…when author Elaine Manders opened up spots in her Westward Hearts and Homes Matrimonial series, I quickly signed on as I’ve never done a mail-order bride romance.

While creating a profile for my heroine, Olivia Glennon, I came across a post about Irish women who came to America. They’d become maids, servants, laundresses, etc. However, I wanted to make Olivia something a bit more…modern. Giving her an occupation not only as a seamstress but as a pattern maker would add another layer to her profile.

Since the matrimonial agency was headquartered in Boston, I searched the Internet for pattern-making companies in the 1800s…enter Ebenezer Butterick.

Home sewing had just begun to proliferate with the introduction of the sewing machine in the mid-1800s. Around the same time, women’s magazines were gaining in popularity and many of them printed patterns, increasing the average woman’s access to stylish garments. However, these early patterns and illustrations were printed on small magazine pages and were difficult to use. By the 1850s, Godey’s Lady’s Book printed full-sized patterns, but in only one size, with no scale measurements for enlarging giving the reader no choice but to size the patterns to her own figure.

During the Civil War era, tailor Ebenezer Butterick experimented with the idea of graded patterns and discovered that tissue paper was ideal to work with and much easier to package than the heavy cardboard templates he first created.

The first graded sewing patterns were cut and folded by members of the Butterick family and sold from their home. In no time they needed extra space and expanded, first into an adjoining house and then to a larger house outside of Boston. In the next year, they established a second branch in New York City. Butterick first specialized in men’s and boys’ clothing but in 1866 began to manufacture dress patterns. Soon the women’s line included dresses, jackets, and capes in 13 sizes and skirts in five sizes. By 1873 Butterick was selling some six million patterns a year, at 25 cents each.

Corporate headquarters were moved in 1903 to the new 16-story Butterick Building in what is now known as Manhattan’s Soho district. Butterick was now one of the largest manufacturing concerns in the industry, and the building, constructed expressly for the firm, featured interiors designed by Louis Tiffany. Here, new styles were made up in muslins, and inspected for appearance, practicality, and suitability to the customers. After the season’s styles had been chosen, patterns were created, graded into sizes, printed on tissue papers, and cut, folded, and inserted into envelopes, complete with instruction sheets. These patterns sold for ten or 15 cents each.

Soon, other companies developed their line of women’s clothing patterns—which gave the American woman some options for clothing. Harper’s Bazar (later Harper’s Bazaar) offered pattern sheets printed on both sides of the paper. Shapes had to be traced for use. Begun with one-sized patterns in 1867, Harper’s offered individually cut paper patterns in 1870.

Glasgow tailor James McCall emigrated to New York in 1869 to work for Wheeler and Wilson’s Elliptic Sewing Machines and went on to publish a Catalog of the Bazar Paper Patterns. Despite the similarity of the names, McCall had nothing to do with Harper’s. McCall then published a fashion periodical called The Queen of Fashion in 1891 which became McCall’s in 1897.

By the late 19th century, tissue paper patterns became common. Holes and various shapes indicated the placement of darts and pleats while cut notches showed where to join cut fabric pieces.

   

In 1927, Joseph Shapiro established the Simplicity Pattern Company, which created the reproduced patterns that were affordable for the average household. Most patterns on the market sold from between 25 cents to $1.00, depending on the type of garment. Around the same, Vogue introduced Hollywood Patterns—which sold for 15 cents each—and capitalized on women’s desires to look like Silver Screen stars.

As the railroads increased the speed of transport, it became easier to order patterns from magazines and catalogs. The introduction of money orders made it simple and safe to order products by mail. The pattern business took off in a big way.

Pattern companies began to offer patterns in general magazines like Farm Journal and newspapers hoping to sell to rural and lower-income women, giving these women the chance to dress in current fashion without having to shop at a major department store.

Though home sewing with paper patterns may never gain widespread popularity as it once had, there is a resurgence of at-home sewing encouraging individual style over trends.

Did you or someone you know ever use a paper tissue pattern to make clothing?

Jo-Ann Roberts has two winners!

Thanks for your wonderful comments. I enjoyed learning about you through your connections with the many types of fabric arts.

Congratulations to the winners! Look for my email tomorrow.

               Vickie J – a digital copy of Noelle – Christmas Quilt Brides

               maryellen505 – a digital copy of Hope – Christmas Quilt Brides

 

 

The Thread of the Story

If you’ve read any of my books or posts about my second-favorite passion (writing sweet historical romance is #1), you know I’m a quilter.

It is easy to sit at my machine and reach for a spool of thread that coordinates with the fabric I’m sewing into quilt squares. However, I usually use a medium grey thread when constructing the squares as it is easy to see when I make mistakes (lots of them!) and need to use my modification tool (a.k.a. seam ripper)! And when I run out of thread, a quick trip to my local quilt shop, Jo-Ann’s, or Michaels solves my dilemma.

While writing Noelle and Hope (Christmas Quilt Brides series), it got me thinking. How did my heroines get thread? Where did they get it? And when was it available to the average housewife, seamstress, or milliner?

And thus, the research began…

Forms of very early sewing thread were made of thin strips of animal hide. This was used to sew together larger pieces of hide and fur for clothing, blankets, and shelter. There is proof throughout history of some form of threading used even when cavemen oversaw the planet. As civilizations moved forward, the thread did also, and eventually, it evolved to include the spinning and dyeing of thread.

There are three basic types of thread, and they are based on their origin, Thread is animal, plant, or synthetic depending on its makeup. Silk thread is touted as the best because it is strong, very elastic, and fine in diameter. Silk is interwoven into a lot of regular threads for added strength. Pure silk thread use is used in finer clothing.

However, since the heroines in my story reside in a small Kansas town in 1870s, I imagined they’d only use cotton thread, the least expensive in her quilting.

Thread is made of a series of plies–or cords, twisted together. The plying and twisting create a stronger unit than the original strands alone. A ply is two or more strands of cotton twisted together. A cord is two or more plies twisted together. The earliest form of cotton thread was three-ply thread–three single strands of fiber twisted together.

Manufactured cotton thread was available to hand sewers in the U.S. and Europe in 1800. At first, they were sold in hanks as some yarns still are. The thread came on wooden spools beginning in 1820. Like the soda bottles of today, the spools could be returned for a deposit, to be refilled. Mass production put an end to the deposits since the spools could be produced so cheaply.

 

Historians credit James and Patrick Clark, mill owners in Paisley, Scotland, with developing the first cotton thread. When silk and flax became scarce during the Napoleonic wars, they were forced to find a suitable replacement with which to create their famous (and profitable) Paisley shawls.

Historians credit James and Patrick Clark, mill owners in Paisley, Scotland, with developing the first cotton thread. When silk and flax became scarce during the Napoleonic wars, they were forced to find a suitable replacement with which to create their famous (and profitable) Paisley shawls.

   

Eventually, some Clark family members moved to the U.S. and began their own thread companies, including George Clark and William Clark, grandsons of James who opened a cotton thread mill in New Jersey.

George Clark perfected six-cord thread for use on sewing machines. He called it “O.N.T.” for “Our New Thread,” combining fineness with strength as well as being inexpensive.

In 1815, another prominent Scottish manufacturer, James Coats, began making thread. His sons, James and Peter formed J&P Coats, Co., introducing thread to the U.S. around 1820. By 1869, they began manufacturing sewing thread in Pawtucket Rhode Island. It was here where they developed a unique spool shape with smooth curves.

The emergence of the sewing machine in the 1840s further escalated the need for a better-quality thread. Three-ply was too uneven, and six-ply was too thick. Silk and linen threads were either too thick or too weak for use with the machine. Three-ply silk was too expensive.

Improved cotton seemed the only option.

At the beginning of the 20th century, mercerization was developed to make a stronger, smoother cotton thread. It is a process of immersing cotton thread in a solution of caustic soda, resulting in a stronger, more lustrous that also accepts dye more readily.

Polyester thread became available in 1942, and cotton-wrapped polyester in the late 1960s.

Other Thread Manufacturers

Belding & Corticelli, a silk thread manufacturing enterprise was started by the Belding brothers in Michigan. From their home, they produced spools of silk thread which traveling salesmen marketed door to door.  Sales of silk thread dwindled during the Great Depression, forcing the company to close its doors the next year.

Lucky for us quilters, sewers, seamstresses, and those whose talent with needle and thread, thread–cotton thread, in particular–has evolved over the last 250 years and has been supplanted by other fibers.

So, whenever Noelle Prentiss and Hope Brody (my heroines) threaded a needle and joined fabrics together to make a quilt, they continued the tradition of those who came before and after them by carrying on the thread of the story.

***A Giveaway***

I’m giving away an ebook edition of both Noelle Christmas Quilt Brides and Hope Christmas Quilt Brides. For a chance to win, leave a comment to the question below:

***Do you or does anyone in your family enjoy creating fabric art works? (Sewing, quilting, embroidery, crochet, crewel, macrame, etc.?)***

 

 

 

Cowgirls in the Kitchen – Jo-Ann Roberts

As my parents got older, it became more difficult to buy them gifts for holidays and birthdays. My mother always said as she aged, “my needs are few and my wants are fewer.” But when I hit upon an idea to give them homemade candies instead of another tie or a nightgown, their delight was clearly evident…especially my father. He loved candy and popcorn, keeping a stash in an octagonal side table between the easy chairs in the living room. So, when I came across this recipe, I knew it would be a huge hit. For more years than I care to divulge in this post, I’ve made this treat for family and friends. And now, from my kitchen to yours, here’s Butterscotch Popcorn Crunchies.

                                     Butterscotch Popcorn Crunchies

Ingredients:

  • 1 12-ounce package (2 cups) Toll House butterscotch flavored morsels

  • 1 cup light corn syrup

  • 1/4 cup butter

  • 12 cups popped popcorn

  • 1 12-ounce can salted nuts

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.

  2. In a heavy saucepan, combine butterscotch morsels, corn syrup, and butter. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture boils.

  3. Place popcorn and nuts in a large greased roasting pan. Pour butterscotch mixture over popcorn, toss to coat well.

  4. Bake at 300 degrees for 45 minutes, stirring frequently.

  5. Remove from oven; stir every 10 minutes until slightly cooled. Cool completely. Store in airtight container.

Valentine’s Day in the Old West

Goodness, it’s February already! And that means Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. So, whether you love or loathe it, there’s no doubt it’s one of the most widely celebrated holidays in the world.

But how did we arrived at a holiday in the dead of winter, and symbolized by a chubby baby wearing a diaper carrying a bow and arrow, that will bring in revenue over $14.2 billion this year?

History

Valentine’s Day, also called St. Valentine’s Day or the Feast of St. Valentine, is celebrated annually on February 14th. It originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring one or two early Christian martyrs named St. Valentine and is recognized as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance and love in many regions of the world.

Formal messages or valentines, appeared in the 1500s, and by the late 1700s commercially printed cards were being used. The first commercial valentines in the United States were printed in the mid-1800s. Valentines commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, traditionally the seat of emotion. Because it was thought that the bird mating season begins in mid-February, birds also became a symbol of the day.

Up until the end of the Civil War, men might shower their special lady with a card to express his sentiments.

A “window” valentine ca. 1864.

This card was called a “window valentine” because front flaps opened to reveal a hidden message or image.

Or if a fella was well-to-do, he would purchase “eating chocolates” for his sweetheart. Produced by Richard Cadbury, these chocolates were sold in beautifully decorated boxes that could be used again and again to store mementos, from locks of hair to love letters.

           

The Old West and Valentine’s Day

Once the war was over, many soldiers left the war-torn East for a new life in the West. So, if a man was lucky enough to have a wife or sweetheart in the far reaches of the frontier, what was available to him?

In lieu of tangible gifts, the suitor might present his lady with something of himself. A carefully handwritten love letter in his best penmanship was a gift many a lady would highly cherish.

 

Carving out a life in the West, many men acquired skills which came in handy when crafting a gift for his intended. Whether it was a hand-tooled leather sewing box, a wooden blanket chest, or a poem of his own creation, men in the West were determined to show their affection on Valentine’s Day by manufacturing something hewed by his own hands.

 

By the last decade of the 1800s, access to a mail-order catalog (Sears & Roebucks, Montgomery Ward, and Eaton’s in Canada) offered jewelry, hat pins, parasols, and rings to the man who had hard cash and the desire to impress his lady.

Today, as in the past, Valentine’s Day celebrations are as varied as the people planning them. However, in 1873, this advertisement in the Matrimonial Times actually occurred in San Francisco.

            “Any gal that got a bed, calico dress, coffee pot and skillet, knows how to cut out britches and can make a hunting shirt, knows how to take care of children can have my services till death do us part.”

What women could resist an invitation so eloquently stated?!!!

Turning the clock back to the late 1950’s – early 1960’s…

I have such wonderful, vivid memories of Valentine’s Day in elementary school. A week before Valentine’s Day, every student would bring in a shoe box. During art class, we would decorate our boxes with crepe paper, hearts cut from red and pink construction paper, and paper lace doilies, making sure there was a large slit in the cover for all the Valentine cards we were sure to get. Ironically, most of the cards had a western cowboy/cowgirl theme! Do these look familiar to anyone?

      

For a chance to win a $5 Amazon gift card, share your comments about a favorite Valentine’s Day memory from your school days.

 

 

 

Jo-Ann Roberts Has A Winner!

 

Hey, y’all! Thanks for stopping by the P&P blog on Thursday. I enjoyed reading your comments on how you celebrated New Year’s Eve.  Wishing you all the best in 2024!

 

…and the winner is…

Lynn M.

Congratulations! I will be contacting you to arrange for delivery of your $10 Amazon gift card.