In Part 2 of this blog series, I share 70 newspaper clippings from Victorian America, wherein reports abound that husbands have sold their wives. Prices range from $0.05 (5 cents) to thousands of dollars (US, Victorian). I provided price comparisons, just for impact. Throughout, I provided my opinions regarding TRUTH or JOKE. Ultimately, there had to be some of both. What a bizarre practice!
Often, FACT is stranger than FICTION.
Interestingly enough, readers of Mail-Order Bride-themed Historical Romance aren’t likely to find much in the way of FACTS in the fiction we so love to read. But that doesn’t mean the true history behind the popular niche isn’t fascinating to those of us who read and write it. Risks were very well known. Newspaper reporters often were behind advertisements. Boredom lead truly unmarriageable people to engage in entertainment through the mail system and matrimony agencies. Practical jokes accounted for many…considered a gentleman’s sport in the era.
Frederick Henry Harvey recognized a need along the railway lines–good quality food, comfortable accommodations, and sterling service. He’d worked as a mail clerk on the railroad and discovering the unmet needs of travelers, opened his restaurant business in the 1870’s. By 1883, he replaced male waiters with young ladies whose impeccable appearance and gracious service increased Harvey’s business from local men. Courtships ensued (restricted to the “courting parlor” in the women’s dormitories), marriage occurred–but not until the minimum of one year of service to the company was met. Fred Harvey is credited with much more than quality food and entrepreneurship in the Southwest, he single-handedly brought about the civilizing of the west by importing more “brides” than any other “agency”.
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.
Did any of this stuff happen in real history?
Did real life mail-order bride arrangements become love-matches?