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Thursday, June 11, 2009

Even Bertram would have been impressed with how lengthy this is. The text is here:

As the prevailing conventional rules of society in a great degree prevent social intercourse, and acquaintance between the sexes especially in matrimonial matters, the undersigned takes the responsibility to violate the autocratic mandate of etiquette so far as to say, that he desires to extend his acquaintance with ladies matrimonially inclined, and those only who are truly respectable and properly vouched for. He desires no communication with ladies less than about forty nor over fifty years old. Intellect of a high order and practical amiable disposition, pleasing address and robust constitution. A widow lady with a young son preferred, and with sufficient means in addition to his own, to ensure a respectable and comfortable living. The advertiser is a college graduate, fifty-seven years old, a resident of the State and a widower, with an only child, a daughter, recently married. Of his qualifications and acquirements, delicacy forbids him at this time to say nothing further than that he enjoys a high social and official position. Although many may treat the matter with earnest contempt in thus endeavouring to find a congenial companion, but he pledges his honor as a gentleman that his motives are sincere, and he trusts that the responses he may receive, and under confidential seal, will be equally as frank and in good faith. None noticed unless accompanied with real name and residence, and references of the highest respectability, to be mutually exchanged. Address Ivanhoe, New York City Post office.

Whew! First of all, if I ever wrote sentences that long, my professors would disown me. Victorians really had a thing for commas (and, usually, semicolons) instead of periods. I find this one interesting because on the one hand he seems sincere, but then there are a few red flags that stand out. First, the desire to meet a widow with a young son is a bit odd. To be honest I'm not quite sure what to make of that, but I suspect it had to do with coverture laws - until 1885 when a woman married all of her property went directly under the control of her husband to do with as he pleased. There were some stipulations to protect it so the husband couldn't just throw it all away, and the income of a widow would go to her children rather than to her new husband when she died. I guess if she had a young son, however, then the new husband might have more influence? I'm speculating here, but I think it's something along those lines.

The final requirement that the woman give her real name and address in order to receive a response is also a little strange. After all, if you use an online dating site even today, you certainly don't give your real name and address right away. It's risky to say the least, and just as much if not more so back then, so such a demand seems pretty brazen.

It's frustrating, because you want to believe everyone printing these ads is honest, but then you see these suspicious little tidbits here and there that make you wonder. I do like the pseudonym Ivanhoe, however. Very cute.

Meanwhile, on a much pithier note...

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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