Mail Order Brides in the 19th Century American West

Mail Order Brides in the 19th Century American West

Fans of Mail-Order Bride Romances adore reading about courageous women who left home, headed west, and risked everything for a brighter future. We admire brave men who sent for a bride with no more courtship than letters could provide. We enjoy the conflict, hurdles, and challenges the characters face before earning their happy ending.

One reason I’m personally a fan of mail-order bride historical romances is the tale usually involves a married hero and heroine. It’s almost magical to see a husband and wife develop tender feelings for one another, gradually fall in love, learn to trust and rely on one another, and find themselves significantly better off because of their union.

The natural progression of courtship, falling in love, commitment, and marriage tends to be all out of order. Often marriage comes much earlier in the course of things, and the falling in love part takes a while. It’s different from what most of us experience, and that makes it interesting.

Did any of this stuff happen in real history?

Yes.

Many different circumstances contributed to the phenomenon of mail-order brides: the loss of so many men in the War Between the States, the California Gold Rush, Westward expansion, Chinese immigrants working in mining and railways…just to name a few.

Men went west first, seeking land of their own, fortunes, and a desire to explore. Men often found themselves on the frontier with limited to no marriage prospects.

Most mail-order brides in the 19th Century American west were single and had very few options–if they wanted marriage, this arrangement could prove their only opportunity. A few had been widowed and often brought children along. Some were runaways. A few dodged the law and hoped to disappear into the Wild West and take on a new identity.

Occasionally potential brides (and the men who sent for them) used a brokerage firm to arrange their matches. Most men bypassed the few firms of the day and sent notices to friends, relatives, or pastors in the more populated eastern states. Some posted advertisements in church bulletins or town newspapers where they knew no one, so they didn’t have the benefit of a trusted person vouching for a potential bride’s character.

Did real life mail-order bride arrangements become love-matches?

Sometimes.

Men often misrepresented themselves…and so did women. After all, what drunken miner with a worthless claim would expect the truth to attract a wife? What woman would freely admit the truth of her circumstances if she believed doing so would spoil her chances of finding safety, protection, support, and a home?

Historic advertisements provide clues as to what potential husbands revealed, and what they sought: a help-meet, companionship, building a life together on his land. Few admitted a desire for a love-match. Most ads were succinct, minimal, and without the usual exchange of letters to follow, provided very little information. Many invitations west resulted in hasty marriages that survived a pathetically brief time as abandonment, death, or the truth of a legal (and still living) spouse surfaced and brought about the marriage’s termination. History reveals instances of fickle mail-order brides whose groom paid her railway passage…but she married someone else because he seemed a better prospect.

But in books, readers expect romances to conclude with a hopeful, confident, it’ll-all-work-out ending. Readers want to see the couple earn that happy ending (and triumph over the conflict keeping them from easily falling in love and committing). We want resounding joy. That’s why romance authors walk a fine line between writing life-like fiction…that mirrors reality and creates a rewarding read…including that happiness of a love story gone right.

Four of my six current titles are Mail Order Bride Romances, with many more in planning stages.

BOOK REVIEW: Buying a Bride by Marcia A. Zug Matrimonial Fool and his Money (on Sweet Americana Sweethearts) Real Mail-Order Bride SUCCESS stories! NEWSPAPER Brides vs. Mail-Order Brides Sweet Americana Sweethearts Blog (WANTED: MIDWIFE BRIDE) 19th Century frontier doctor seeks mail-order bride Mail-Order Catalogs: Timeline and Truth Mail-Order Catalogs in the Old West BOOK REVIEW: Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, by Chris Enss BOOK REVIEW: Object: Matrimony by Chris Enss America’s Victorian Era Love Letters Fred Harvey, Marriage Broker Charlotte Smith Demands National Legislation to Require Matrimony Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 1: all 12 articles in this series are linked

Copyright © 2014 Kristin Holt LC

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *