Monday, November 28, 2022

Mail Order Brides and Romance by Post—with Giveaway by Donna Schlachter

Matrimonials,” The San Francisco Call (San Francisco, CA), February 7, 1909, 44. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

When non-historians sit around with a cup of coffee and discuss American history, there are at least three favorite topics: Pony Express, orphan trains, and mail order brides.

The interesting thing about that is that they seem completely unconnected. And yet, as we consider the three, perhaps they have more in common than we first think.

The Pony Express lasted about eighteen months, while orphan trains relocated more than two hundred thousand orphaned and abandoned children in the seventy-five years the system operated. As for mail order brides—well before the United States Postal Service was formed, men sought women in America, bringing them over from England, Ireland, Scotland, and other countries in Europe. In fact, folks are still finding spouses from other countries.

Prior to the 1800s, connections between a man seeking a wife, and a woman willing to answer, came in the form of personal introductions or family or business connections. It wasn’t uncommon for parents who were close friends to betroth—or promise—their children would wed.

In the 1800s, once newspapers and printing houses were established, advertising for a spouse became much easier. Papers printed ads, and respondents indicated their interest by writing a letter in care of the newspaper. Magazines operated in a similar fashion, sometimes allocating several pages for these advertisements.


Mary and Elkanah Walker married in 1838.
Portrait of Mary Richardson Walker and Elkanah Walker, Cage 57, Elkanah and Mary Richardson Walker Papers 1830-1938, Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections, Washington State University Libraries, Pullman, WA.

Between the Civil War and the 1830s, a new phenomenon called “the love match” took over Western Europe and America. The idea grew that love was now necessary for a successful marriage. Perhaps perpetuated by the increase in romance novels—or perhaps the novels were a result of the notion—but either way, parties to marriage often considered love was more important. In the past, couples recognized other benefits to marriage: shared duties and responsibilities; combining businesses or land; continuing a family legacy or bloodline; and, of course, children.


These four men in Montana (near Lake McDonald in Glacier National Park) at the turn of the 20th century advertised their want for wives on the side of a cabin. From left-to-right they were: Bill Daucks, Frank Geduhn, Esli Apgar, and Dimon Apgar. Frank, and Dimon eventually married, but not mail-order brides. Courtesy of Glacier National Park Photo Archives, photo HPF 9871.

There is no evidence that love trumps loyalty, honor, family, or faith, however. Many mail order couples—and indeed, most of the marriages of the time—were not based in love. No doubt many grew to love their spouses over the course of the marriage, but overall, this love match idea was slow to take hold, particularly among older families. There is no evidence available to suggest that those who married through the mail order system were any happier, or their marriages any more—or less—successful, than couples introduced in the conventional way.

The process varied, but usually one party placed an advertisement, registered with a marriage agency, or provided information to friends and family that they desired to marry. The other party responded, which began a time of exchanging letters. This might go on for as little as a month—one letter each way—or for a year or more. Arrangements were made for the woman to travel to the man, which he paid for. Sometimes a commitment was made in writing, but occasionally it didn’t happen until they’d met and deemed each other suitable. There is an account of one couple who married four hours after they met in person, although they knew each other through family connections and had corresponded for over a year.

And then there’s the story of a woman who rejected the man after meeting him because he had red hair. In her experience, red-heads were always “cross”—angry.

Some mail-order brides never even arrived at the station. Rather, they accepted the travel fare and pocketed the money. Mail Order Marriages: Two in Spokane Turn out Differently,” East Oregonian (Pendleton, OR), March 23, 1911, 6. Historic Oregon Newspapers.

Scams were likely, and an untold number of men lost their potential mate, their money, and their pride when she never arrived. If the phrase “once bitten, twice shy” is true, many of these poor fellows likely lived out their lives as bachelors. Or chose a woman who lived nearby.

Fast forward to today, and we see that a slightly different version of marriages still takes place. Common in World War II, soldiers still bring wives home from foreign lands. The internet has opened the world to those seeking a mate. In fact, I am an internet bride. We just celebrated our twenty-third anniversary. But that’s a story for another time.

In my upcoming release, The Freedom Stage: Book 2 of Mail-Order Romance, planned for December 31st, 2022, my heroine runs from her past—straight into the arms of a stranger.

In Book 1 of this series, The New Hope Train, strangers meet on a train and fall in love, and must decide whether to fulfill their commitment to another, or to break their word and marry each other.

Giveaway: Leave a comment, and I will randomly draw one name to receive an ebook copy of The New Hope Train. Include your email so I can contact you. Comments without an email will not be included in the drawing. Please cleverly disguise your email address so the bots don’t find you. For example: donna AT livebytheword DOT com

About The New Hope Train:

October 1895

Mary Johannson has scars on her body that can’t compare with the scars on her heart. She is alone in the world, with no family, no prospects, and no home.

John Stewart is at his wit’s end. His wife of three years died in childbirth, leaving him with a toddler and an infant, both girls. Theirs was the love of fairy tales, and while he has no illusions about finding another like her, his children need a mother.

Though separated by thousands of miles, they commit to a mail-order marriage. But on their journey to New Hope, they meet and realize the life they’d planned would be a lie. Can they find their way back from the precipice and into the love of God and each other, or are they destined to keep their word and deny their heart?

Check it out here:

About The Freedom Stage:

A young woman runs from her past, straight into the arms of a stranger. Was she going from bad to worse? Or did God hold her in His hands?

A death-bed promise, a family legacy, an unexpected wife--how can he turn his back on them to fulfill a vow?

Preorder here:

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 50 times in books; is a member of several writers groups; facilitates a critique group; teaches writing classes; ghostwrites; edits; and judges in writing contests. She loves history and research, traveling extensively for both, and is an avid oil painter. Stay connected so you learn about new releases, preorders, and presales, as well as check out featured authors, book reviews, and a little corner of peace. Plus: Receive a free ebook simply for signing up for our free newsletter!


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  1. Thank you for posting today, Donna. I love reading about all of those things you mentioned...Pony Express, Mail Order Brides and Orphan Trains. And your book sounds good. I have several of your titles to read now....winter's coming, a chance to hunker down and read more. bcrug AT twc DOT com

  2. Hi Connie, thanks for stopping by. I love those topics, too, and anticipate writing more books about them. Good luck in the drawing.