In 1905, The Courier of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania published an article detailing a “Correspondence” Courtship Scam. A young, innocent girl lost more than her heart, more than $1,000 (a fortune in today’s dollar)–she lost her confidence and her trust in humanity.
The Heiress A Chambermaid: Adventures of Two Lovesick Men in a Hunt for $85,000 Through a Matrimonial Agency
Scams involving fraudulent matrimonial companies abounded in the nineteenth century. Vintage newspapers often reported circumstances, chastised the foolish hearts who sent money to their correspondent, and insisted that no man or woman worth marrying needed to resort to the mail or an agency. This article, titled the same (as my post) was originally published in The New York Times, January 21, 1900, and details the circumstances of a purported “heiress”, gushing love letters on scented stationery, her two lovesick swains, the Manhattan matrimonial agency, and the judge’s decree.
Marcia A. Zug’s 2016 publication, Buying a Bride (New York University Press) is a timely narrative of the history of mail-order brides, from colonial days in the Americas (French and English) through the growth and westward migration of the United States, and into contemporary times. The nonfiction work is an easy read, informative, amusing, enlightening, and draws heavily from original sources. Ever wondered about the TRUTH behind mail-order brides–whether in today’s news, as a setting for favorite Old West Romances, or even pre-Revolutionary War? This five-star nonfiction book is for you!
My husband’s brother inherited a piece of antique Victorian-era furniture originally belonging to his great-grandfather. The piece has stood in the living room of my brother- and sister-in-law for many years since Grandma (the original owner’s daughter-in-law) passed away. I’ve admired the piece but didn’t recognize it was more than a glass-fronted cabinet–a writing desk!–until I saw an historic advertisement for a nearly identical piece in a nineteenth century newspaper advertisement.
This article contains newspaper advertisements with engravings, images of current antique combination desk bookcases, and our family heirloom piece. Victorian prices are compared with the modern dollar (accounting for inflation).
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.