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.
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? This article contains numerous newspaper accounts and advertisements.
InÂ my recent post about The Proper (and safe) Way to Terminate a Victorian American Courtship because we all know the threat of a suit of Breach of Promise was too great, a quote by the Reverend George W. Hudson in his 1883 book sounded rather scandalous. The good reverend actually said “making love”–and he didn’t mean in a sexual way. It’s essential to note that the term had a very different meaning in the 19th Century and early 20th Century than it does now.
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”.
Though another blogger cited the first recorded use of “mail-order bride” in the New York Times in 1929, I’ve found documentation in other newspapers of the phrase in use much earlier. The short snippets of stories illustrating the use of “mail-order bride” in the decades between the Turn of the Century and 1929 illustrate the general acceptance of this phrase in American English prior to 1916 or 1911, earlier than 1906…yes! 1903! (And perhaps even earlier as more historical documentation becomes readily available).