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Woman for Man

Sunday, May 31, 2009

When I first started doing research for this project, the paper I was using only had matrimonial ads from men, so imagine my surprise when I started working with another paper and found hundreds from women! Most of them are pretty straightforward, but here are three that I find particularly entertaining (click on them to enlarge):

The text is written out here:

High Ho! I am for matrimony, who will have me? Stand back gentlemen, don't all speak at once. I am a prepossessing widow of twenty-four; no encumbrances; a stranger in the city; fell heir last week to a fortune of one hundred thousand dollars; desire the acquaintance of an honorable, active business gentleman, in comfortable circumstances - in truth, with a sincere view to matrimony. No trifler need answer. A Methodist minister or officer in the army preferred. "Highly respectable." Cartes de visites and references indispensible. Address In for a Union, station D.

A young lady, country bred, but easily tamed and civilized, would like to correspond with a city gentleman, with a view to matrimony. It is necessary for him to be wealthy, and not less than forty years of age, as she would "rather be an old man's darling than a young man's slave." The advertiser is 21, and presumes her manners and appearance will recommend her to tastes not overly fastidious; also a lady of position, and will expect replies from responsible parties only; therefore, triflers, take heed. Address Matilda, station D, Post office.

Wanted, a husband. A young lady of beauty, accomplishments, and high standing, will marry any educated gentleman, old or young, bachelor or widower, who will give her affection and a home. To inquiries as to the reason for this extraordinary step, she answers, a stepmother. She really means all that is stated above, and only wishes replies from those as sincere as herself. Address Ethel [illegible], box 300 Herald office.

The first I find...doubtful. The opening seems a little crass for a "prepossessing widow of twenty-four," and her circumstances sound just a little too good to be true. No encumbrances (that is, children who her future husband would have to care for), a stranger (no father or brothers to look out for her interests), and on top of that, she just fell heir to $100,000? Don't speak all at once? Men would be climbing all over each other for a chance like that. Either "In for a Union" was a total moron, or maybe she's not who she says she is.

The second is somewhat more direct, but not as rare as you might think. Both men and women regularly specified that they wanted to meet someone wealthy. There are a lot of similarities between personal ads now and then, but this isn't one of them. I'll talk about that more later, but for women, finding a husband with money was a somewhat reasonable desire, given that it was virtually impossible for a woman to find a way to support herself comfortably. Looking to be an old man's darling instead of a young man's slave might sound a little like gold-digging, and maybe it was, but I think it could also be a practical necessity.

And finally, the last is one of my favorite ads ever. This young lady wasn't alone in taking the "extraordinary step" of advertising for a husband, but I absolutely love her explanation: a stepmother!! Ha! Okay, I shouldn't laugh; clearly things were pretty dire. But really, sometimes I run across the oddest things.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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