Friday, April 28, 2023

The History of Matrimonial Bureaus and Dating Agencies – with Giveaway By Donna Schlachter

From "A Brief History of the World's First Dating Agency"

Adam and Eve were probably the only people in history who never struggled to find a mate. After all, they were the only two people around, and God created Eve for Adam.

But from that time on, given that humans are rarely satisfied unless there’s a choice between two options, no doubt some have wondered and wandered in search of a mate. In many cultures, in the early days, the father or oldest male relative would choose a wife for his son. And fathers of daughters were always on the lookout to pair their daughter for family honor, money or land or power, and since it was done this way all the time, rarely was love or affection considered. After all, survival of the human race was more important than love, wasn’t it?

This month, we’ll explore the history of how folks who struggled to meet other folks might have solved their problem by employing a matrimonial bureau.

The first known dating agency was established in 1650, although they probably existed for years before under similar guidelines. Mr. Robinson originally set up a Citizens Advice Bureau and charged on a sliding scale according to ability to pay; peasants got advice at no charge. He was discreet, primarily because some of the advice he handed out would have gone against the largely Puritan population in the area of Threadneedle Street, London. The fact that little documentation survives about his business venture is a testimony to his choosing to stay quiet about the operations.

In the 1600s, most marriages were arranged through the immediate family. If there was none, the parish priest might be asked to recommend a suitable mate. Mr. Robinson was adept at sniffing out information on existing relationships, young men and women coming of age, deaths, and new folks in the area. Being single past the age of twenty-one carried with it a deep stigma, which is why folks often turned to a matrimonial bureau.

Courtship began once the match was found. A man could send gloves to his intended, and if she wore them to church the following Sunday, that meant she was interested. He might also carve a love spoon, complete with artwork whittled in, to send a personal message to the woman. Meetings were conducted in the presence of a chaperone.

During this time, if the relationship lasted beyond a few successful meetings, he would be invited into the woman’s room, where they could talk. Later on, this would have been scandalous, but at this time, provisions were made to ensure that no physical contact happened before marriage. Bundling provided private time for them to share their feelings, their dreams, and discuss important topics such as the number of children they preferred or how many servants he would provide.

From "A Brief History of the Worlds Fist Dating Agency"

Bundling consisted of several options, depending on the practice of the area, and might be a bolster placed between the pair; a bundle board set down the middle of the bed; special garments that they were sewed into like a sack; or the man slept on top of the covers while the woman slept underneath. If they passed this test, they were permitted to marry. Otherwise, they were separated from each other and condemned by society.

By the 1700s and 1800s, the church had become more active in promoting marriage. In the late 18th century, clergymen established practice. Ads were placed in newspapers asking men and women who desired marriage to send money and their details, including age, how much money they made or had, and the dowry required or provided.

In 1825, an agency in London opened an office three days a week so prospective spouses could subscribe in person.

Historically, matrimonial bureaus worked as a commercial business or a service of the local church. Unfortunately, in both cases, fraud happened, with parties sending money but never getting the spouse.

This especially happened when a party in the US agreed to bring a bride from Europe, as the defrauded victim had little recourse to getting either their wife or their money.

Matrimonial bureau matches were often called Mail-Order Brides or Mail-Order Husbands. The proliferous use of catalogues to order goods easily translated in the general public’s mind to ordering up a spouse.

The modern dating agency came following World War II. With economic prosperity and folks looking for new kinds of leisure and amusements, Dating Clubs were set up. Folks joined, had their photograph taken, and gave information about themselves and the type of person they hoped to meet. Prior to the widespread use of photography, an artist’s rendering of prospective mates often took a long time to create, and often physical descriptions were misleading or outright lies.

While no matrimonial bureau was officially used in my book, Kaihtlyn’s Choice, her husband left a will stipulating that she must marry one of three men he’s personally selected for her. Within 30 days. A tinker, a tailor, and a candlestick maker. Which one will she choose?

About Kaihtlyn’s Choice:

A young woman heads west to meet her wandering husband in Nugget, Colorado. On her arrival, she learns he died. But he left a gold mine and a will. With a stipulation: She must marry within 30 days. To one of three men he pre-selected before he died. But which man will win her heart? The tinker, the tailor, or the candlestick maker?

Check out Kaihtlyn's Choice here: and the rest of the series:


Giveaway: Leave a comment, along with your cleverly disguised email address, and I will draw randomly for one lucky reader to receive a free ebook copy of Kaihtlyn’s Choice. For example, donna AT livebytheword DOT com

About Donna:

A hybrid author, Donna writes squeaky clean historical and contemporary suspense. She has been published more than 60 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. She also coaches writers at any stage of their manuscript. Learn more at


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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today. I had not thought about dating and courtship practices in the far past, but of course there have always been arranged marriages. Nowadays, the thought of not marrying for love alone seems cruel but I am aware that many cultures still promote arranged matches.