282—A widower, merchant and stockman lives in Kansas, 46 years old, height 6 feet, weight 210 pounds, brunette, black hair and eyes, wishes to correspond with ladies of same age, without encumbrances and with means, must move in the best society and be fully qualified to help make a happy home: object, matrimony.
257—Wanted someone to love, who will be true and sweet, and not only a darling dove but truly a wise helpmate. She must be of noble birth, whose worth could not be told, as misers count that sordid worth, of stocks and bonds and gold.
268—Two good-looking young men in a Missouri town, having money at their disposal, would be pleased to correspond with two jolly young ladies. Object a quality time and its results.
233—Answer to 82—There is a lad in Missouri with a foot that’s flat, with seeds in his pocket and a brick in his hat, with an eye that is blue and a No. 10 shoe—he’s the “Bull of the Woods” and the boy for you.
266—I want to know some pretty girl of 17 to 20 years. I am 29, 5 feet 9 inches tall, a blonde: I can laugh for 15 minutes, and I want some pretty girl to laugh with me.
214—Respectable young man, with good position in city, 20 years old, desires the acquaintance of a modest young lady, between the ages of 17 and 21, with home nearby. Object: to attend operas and church; perhaps more.
These are real advertisements that appeared in a publication called The Matrimonial News published in San Francisco and Kansas City, Mo. during the late 1800s and early 1900s. The paper touted itself as the publication that made the happiness of their readers their main business. Each edition of The Matrimonial News opened with the phrase: “Women need a man’s strong arm to support her in life’s struggle, and men need a woman’s love.” If you wanted to place an ad in the paper, you had to provide your height, weight, financial and social positions, along with a general description of the kind of persons you were looking for. Ladies’ personals of 40 words or less were published at no charge and gentlemen’s personals of 40 words or less for 25 cents.
Contrary to oft-repeated folklore, a bachelor did not simply choose a bride from the Sears Roebuck catalog, but “courted” his intended through correspondence. During this period single women were scarce in the west, but abundant in the east where the civil war had left many widows and sweethearts without husbands. A man who traveled west in search of gold, farmland or lumber had no available options but sending to the east for a bride if he was of a mind to raise a family of his own. These brides were often of a social status considered ‘lesser’ such as a servant. Some were foreign, some were widows with children to support and some, though scandalous at the time, were divorcees. Both sexes placed advertisements in such publications as The Matrimonial News, seeking to better themselves and their positions.
Interestingly, history tells us that many of these marriages, most occurring within a few hours of their first meeting, lasted many years and produced many children. However, not all were successful, as in the case of Eleanor Berry, a California schoolteacher. On her way to meet her groom, Miss Berry’s stagecoach was held up by masked bandits who stole all the gold in the stage’s safe. During the robbery Eleanor noticed one of the bandits had a long scar on the back of his hand. Later, she stood before the preacher with the man who had sent for her, but as he signed the marriage license, she noticed the same scar on the back of his hand. Yep, he was the masked bandit that had stolen her belongings. It is said she ran screaming from the room and was on a stage back home the next day. At the time it was considered far more scandalous to come back home unmarried than it would have been to marry a stranger.
The era of mail-order brides in western America fascinates us as it’s so difficult to imagine marrying someone we’ve never met. The mixture of excitement and fear these couples must have experienced are the basis for many of today’s fictional romances.
Scribbling in notebooks has been a habit of Cindy Regnier since she was old enough to hold a pencil. Born and raised in Kansas, she writes stories of historical Kansas, especially the Flint Hills area where she spent much of her childhood. Cindy is married to her husband of 37 years, has two grown sons, a son residing in heaven, and two beautiful daughters-in-law.