WIFE!?… FOR SALE? Seriously?

Unfortunately, yes. While researching in Victorian-American newspapers, I stumbled across numerous circumstances reported in various papers, wherein men bought or sold their wives (and often children and/or homes), as if they were cattle.

Definition of Chattel. Courtesy of Google.

It’s common knowledge women didn’t have as many rights in the nineteenth century, and were in many ways chattel (not the same thing as cattle)…and fully dependent upon their husband’s good will. Many Victorian men were good husbands, treating their wives fairly, with kindness and often with love. Many couples lived together in harmony. Just like any other era in time, many did not. The law sided with the husband in nearly all circumstances, and men were allowed to discipline (beat, physically abuse) their wives and children, so long as their lives were not in danger. In cases where a woman died at her husband’s hand, the murder was often not taken seriously. But I digress. (Perhaps a post for another time?)

Back to selling wives.

The following article, “The Wife Market” originally appeared in the Atlanta Constitution, and was subsequently published in Vicksburg Evening Post of Vicksburg, Mississippi on June 30, 1886. Note that the author (unnamed, as was most common in the mid- to late-nineteenth century) lists a variety of related topics within the umbrella of “Wife Market”, including the literal sale and transfer of wives. His persuasive argument includes all forms of “(monetary) price of affections“: matrimonial agencies, bribery (paid to accept proposal of marriage), and sale and transfer of wives.

As made apparent by his personal opinion coloring the report of (supposed) facts, all are abhorrent to him. See his choice of descriptions: “startling”, “true”, “merchandise or goods (referring to wives)”, “disgraceful”, “lowest grade of society”, “sordid”, “scandal”, “loose”, and “monstrous”.

Vicksburg Evening Post of Vicksburg, Mississippi on June 30, 1886. Part 1 of 3.

Vicksburg Evening Post of Vicksburg, Mississippi on June 30, 1886. Part 2 of 3.

Vicksburg Evening Post of Vicksburg, Mississippi on June 30, 1886. Part 3 of 3.


At the time this newspaper article (a persuasive argument) was published, mainstream “Mormons” (The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) had been practicing polygamy among a small percentage (single digit) of men/husbands for forty (to fifty) years. Polygamy officially ceased (1890 with the Manifesto) prior to Utah gaining statehood in 1896 (although the argument persists that some mainstream Mormons continued in secrecy for a short while).

One of the conditions for granting Utah statehood was that a ban on polygamy be written into the state constitution. This was a condition required of other western states that were admitted into the Union later. Statehood was officially granted on January 4, 1896.

~ Utah – Wikipedia

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has not practiced polygamy for more than 135 years.

Up Next!

Publishing tomorrow! (August 10, 2017)

For Sale: WIFE (Part 2)

With 70 clips from newspapers from Oregon to Alabama, New York to California, North Dakota to Texas (all from vintage newspapers), with various stories told of Wives Sold, wives who suggested such sales… some clearly intended as laughter at the crudity, some in good humor, and some–frighteningly–sincere efforts to dodge the legal system and in the old English way (American law is based on English law, after all), rid oneself of an undesirable spouse without benefit of a legal divorce.

Copyright © 2017 Kristin Holt LC