Victorian Americans loved live entertainment. In this era prior to motion pictures (or television)–theater performances, opera, musicals, orchestra performances–were all highly sought after. And not just in the settled cities of the east.

Live theater was a significant source of entertainment in the Old West. The historic city of Tombstone, Arizona, sported at least six different theaters (during its short-lived heyday) visited by traveling troupes, entertainers, and musicians. Newspaper articles regale costuming, quality of performances, and announce coming attractions. Advertisements alert theater-goers to upcoming opportunities.

But did you know one specific type of entertainment were farces? And their sole purpose was to poke fun at the idea of mail-order brides?

X Image. Farce_definition

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McFee’s ‘Matrimonial Bureau’

The Sedalia Democrat of Sedalia, Missouri. Sunday, 22 November, 1896, pg 2.

The Sedalia Democrat of Sedalia, Missouri. Sunday, 22 November, 1896, pg 2.

The Sedalia Democrat. Sedalia, Missouri on 22 November, 1896, pg 2.

The Sedalia Democrat. Sedalia, Missouri on 22 November, 1896, pg 2.

As referenced in Sedalia Missouri, above, McFee’s ‘Matrimonial Bureau’ was a fiercely popular show, performed widely in the United States throughout the 1890’s.

The Press-Visitor of Raleigh, North Carolina, on 3 November, 1897.

The Press-Visitor of Raleigh, North Carolina, on 3 November, 1897.

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The Atlanta Constitution. 25 December 1896. pg 5

The Atlanta Constitution, of Atlanta, Georgia, on 25 December, 1896, pg 5.

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McFee's Matrimonial Bureau

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FARCE. McFee's at Capital Theater. Description. Daily Arkansas Gazette. Little Rock Arkansas. 28 November 1897 page 3

McFee’s at Capital Theater. Daily Arkansas Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas. 28 November, 1897, page 3.

FARCE. McFee's at Capital Theater. Part 2. Description. Daily Arkansas Gazette. Little Rock Arkansas. 28 November 1897 page 3

McFee’s at Capital Theater. Daily Arkansas Gazette of Little Rock, Arkansas. 28 November, 1897, page 3.

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McFee’s wasn’t the only show to poke fun at mail-order brides…

BACHELOR’S MATRIMONIAL BUREAU

FARCE. Bachelor's Matrimonial bureau. Pittsburgh Daily Post. Pittsburg PA. 3 October 1897. Pg 11.

Bachelor’s Matrimonial Bureau, as reported in Pittsburgh Daily Post. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on 3 October, 1897, pg 11.

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THE SULTAN OF SULU

FARCE. Sultan Opera Overview pic. with matrimony bureau to marry off ex-wives. Chicago Daily Tribune. 18 January 1902. p 43

Sultan Opera Overview image, a farce about the sultan’s matrimony bureau to marry off his unwanted ex-wives. Chicago Daily Tribune, of Chicago, Illinois, on 18 January, 1902, p 43.

A quote from within the Sultan Opera Overview. Chicago Daily Tribune of Chicago, Illinois, on 18 January, 1902, p 43.

A quote from within the Sultan Opera Overview. Chicago Daily Tribune of Chicago, Illinois, on 18 January, 1902, p 43.

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WIRRWAR (translated: Complications)

New York Times, New York, New York, on 26 October, 1904, Page 9

New York Times, New York, New York, on 26 October, 1904, Page 9

New York Times of New York, New York, on 26 October, 1904, p 9.

New York Times of New York, New York, on 26 October, 1904, p 9.

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Mail Order Brides on the Silver Screen…

MOB love triangle. Movie. Manitowoc herald-Times. Manitowoc Wisconsin. 13 Jan 1932

Manitowoc Herald-Times of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, on  13 January, 1932.

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… and MAIL ORDER BRIDES on a high school stage

It wasn’t long and the long-loved trope of mail-order bride farces made its way off professional theater stages and onto high school performance schedules.

Mail Order Bride High School Play, reported in The Perry County Democrat of Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, on 13 February, 1935.

Mail Order Bride High School Play, reported in The Perry County Democrat of Bloomfield, Pennsylvania, on 13 February, 1935.

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People today are still drawn by the inherent humor to be found in the situations surrounding mail-order bride marriages. Though live theater has become less and less popular, shows like Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (Broadway musical, 1954) illustrate the familiar theme, and still play upon occasion (and are available on video).

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Matrimonial Fool and his Money (on Sweet Americana Sweethearts) Charlotte Smith Demands National Legislation to Require Matrimony Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 1: all 12 articles in this series are linked Victorian American Romance and Breach of Promise The Proper (and safe) Way to Terminate a Victorian American Courtship The Spinster Book: 1901 (And Men Are Like Cats…) Street Car Etiquette (1889)–on Sweet Americana Sweethearts

Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt, LC
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