Two contrasting newspaper articles: August 30, 1860 (Altoona, PA) and August 30, 1876 (Fort Scott, KS), show both the apparently high fidelity of marriage…and the lowest of regard of the institution. Both–published on August 30th (157 years ago today, and 141 years ago today)–illustrate a slice of life from the mid- to late-Victorian Era United States. To amateur historians like me (and many readers of western historical romance fiction), newspaper articles like these allow us to draw conclusions based on the readings. What do you think of these two examples of marriage in 19th century America?
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.
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”.
Flourishing in Our Midst are “Matrimonial Agencies” Which Seem to Need Attention:
Trysting Places for fools, Old and Young Which Can Be Dispensed With.
One Institution Investigated, the Vile Character of Which its Proprietors Do Not Deny.
The original newspaper article appeared in The Inter Ocean Newspaper, Chicago, Illinois, 28 August 1887.
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?