PARALYZED BRIDEGROOM: A vintage newspaper article published on January 15, 1888 in The Sunday Leader of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, shows the superstitious nature of one (Kentucky) widower…and a very odd set of circumstances. Note that the article takes care to explain both the effected bridegroom and the new bride are frugal, hard-working, well-respected people of common sense. Amazing what a bit of folklore, threats from a dying first wife, and “the power of suggestion” can do.
Judge John H. Arbuckle promised divorces to unsuspecting men duped by mail-order brides from the East who padded their limbs, hips, bosoms or employed false hair or used cosmetic paints. Such elements of beauty were common in the Victorian American Era, at least among the wealthy. It must have been common enough among disillusioned bridegrooms for the Judge to rule (April 3, 1873) that “marriages into which a man is seduced by the use of (his list of offenses like makeup and padded breasts) without the man’s knowledge, shall stand null and void if he so desires”. Victorian ladies were guilty of nothing today’s generation hasn’t done. But just what padding devices and cosmetics were readily available in the early 1870’s?
We’ve seen the financial, legal, and emotional costs of a courtship gone wrong and culminating in a suit for breach of promise. In Victorian America, where such a consequence was possible if not common enough (to scare a young swain or two), advice of how to break up an unhealthy courtship–or cancel a planned wedding–must have been given by mothers, fathers, society matrons, and “Dear Abby’s” of the day. Indeed they did! This article includes quotes from 3 era-specific books published during the time period.
The more I study historic details of America’s past, the more I realize I don’t know–such as the common practice of suing for breach of contract when a young swain’s courtship derails and no marriage results. I was fascinated by newspaper accounts of settlements upon jilted brides, the dollar amounts sued for, common beliefs of the time period about courtship in general. Who knew courtship in nineteenth century America was such a legal risk?
Whether referred to as “Correspondence Courtship” or “Epistolary Courtship”, part of the natural course of 19th century courting included letter-writing. Victorian-era couples could express tender sentiments in letters more easily (often) than in person. Many couples didn’t have the opportunity to spend time together, face-to-face, for too many miles separated them. Coming to know one another, and fall in love, through letter-writing was a standard practice. Results varied from blissful conjugal felicity (a frequently used term of the American Victorian era) to sensational disasters.
Interestingly enough, the term “Correspondence Courtship” (or very similar phrasing) appeared much more frequently and earlier than did the phrase “Mail-Order Bride”.