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Why women wed

Monday, June 29, 2009

I said last week that women's matrimonial ads tended to be a bit more dry and dull than men's, and I have a couple theories about that, both of which revolve around - what else? - money. First and most simply, women probably had less money to spend on placing an ad. To write some flowery, eloquent ad was something that, I suspect, most women could not afford to do.

But these two ads below point to another, even more crucial reason, why women's ads are less fun.

This ad reads: "Matrimonial - A young lady, being a stranger in the city, and twenty years of age, would like to form the acquaintance of a gentleman of wealth, with a view to matrimony. No gentleman under forty will please address M.M.B., Union square Post office."

Well, that's straightforward enough. Why this young lady was alone in the city is an interesting question. Did she come with a lover who deserted her? Did her parents die suddenly? I don't know, but you see these a lot. If the first, I'm surprised she'd admit it because why would a gentleman want to marry a woman who has just admitted she was "living in sin." But if the second, why didn't she just say she was an orphan? But the real point is, she needed someone to support her. And she's pretty upfront about it to - no beating around the bush.

This second ad is even more blunt, if such a thing is possible. Here is the text:

A young lady, a stranger in the city, alone and friendless, wishes to form the acquaintance of some gentleman who would be her friend, and to whom she could look for protection, with a view to matrimony at some future time; one required that would be willing to give her immediate assistance. Address, in sincerity for three days, Ida West, Herald office.

This just breaks my heart. It screams desperation, and she must have known that she was throwing herself into a situation that might destroy her, because there might have been some nice man out there who would have helped her with no strings attached, but frankly, I'm a cynic in this regard. The odds that there's not going to be an expectation of premarital sex - or at least some measure of physical intimacy - is very small, and she must have known that. If her gentleman protector decided he wasn't interested in protecting her anymore, she'd be in an even worse situation than before.

The fact is that women relied on men, because they couldn't get jobs - or at best they couldn't get jobs that would support them - and for the women printing these ads, there's no romance involved here. They don't get the luxury of looking for their "bright, particular star" or someone to read with them their Shakespeare and Milton. They needed someone to save them from poverty.

I wonder how successful ads like this were. They're being honest, which I suppose is good, but how many men want to marry a woman who is saying that she only is marrying them for their money?

Very, very sad.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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