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Move over, Craigslist

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I recently did an interview about this and I don't want to steal the reporter's thunder (though she'll have more readers than I do anyhow), but I have to introduce yet another kind of personal that I've been researching: nineteenth-century "missed connections." Yes, like the ones on Craigslist. Here's a great example from 1861.

If the lady who got into a twenty-third street stage yesterday afternoon about 2 or 3 o'clock, in the neighborhood of Seventh or Eighth streets and Broadway, and who got out just before coming to Seventh avenue and Twenty-third street, would desire to make the acquaintance of the gentleman who requested her to look at the Personals in to-day's Herald, it would be a mutual pleasure, and she is requested to address Alexander, Herald office, appointing an interview for Thursday.

I have to tell you, the first time I saw one of these my jaw dropped. Of course, we all know the infamous Craigslist missed connections - I may have even read a few of them, purely for research, naturally. But never would I ever have imagined such things existed over 150 years ago. And yet not only did they exist, but they were all over the place! One newspaper printed them pretty much daily for 40 years, and it was normal for there to be four or five a day.

I don't know if any women ever responded to these ads (they were almost always from men), but it's hard to believe men would have tried publishing these ads for 40 years if they didn't work occasionally. And there were actually quite a few people who thought that these ads were extremely threatening No nice, normal, respectable man would try to meet a woman this way, right? So, obviously, Alexander was some nefarious criminal, twirling his mustache, planning to seduce and then abandon the innocent lady who was so foolish as to answer.

That's what a lot of people really believed (some other time I'll share some of the delicious criticisms I've found). But if there were several ads every day for decades, that would have meant that there were thousands of evil men on the prowl in the streets of New York, looking for naive girls to corrupt. There's a crisis of epic proportions for you. And they say gay marriage is dangerous!

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein

3 comments:

David May 26, 2009 at 1:46 PM  

Well it looks he told her to look for that ad, right? So it seems like part of a pick-up scheme. He saw her on the coach, chatted her up, and said "you don't have to choose now, but if you're interested this is how you can reach me."

Pam May 26, 2009 at 2:03 PM  

That's definitely a possibility, though I don't think it's a given. This guy is actually fairly unique in that he refers to the Personals column directly. Most of them just seem to have the hope that women read the Personals column regularly enough (for entertainment, something I'll be talking about a lot as this goes on) that they might see themselves in it.

Ms Avery June 20, 2009 at 1:10 PM  

I love the arrogance of "it would be a mutual pleasure". Ha!

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