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Object not matrimony

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Whatever these people claim, marriage was not on their minds.

Gentleman (28), independently situated, desires acquaintance young lady; object, matrimony. Hamilton, 254 Herald Main Office.
A young widow, unencumbered, would accept friendship of refined, temperate, elderly gentleman of means matrimonially inclined. Seamstress, 265 Herald 23d St. Branch

Too bad Hamilton is only 28, or these two would suit each other perfectly!

Here's the deal. They weren't looking to get married. Sure, they say "object matrimony" and "matrimonially inclined" and I could imagine that the seamstress might even desire it. But despite the sop to respectability, these advertisers don't expect anyone to respond really thinking they're going to meet their future spouse.

These ads were both from the very end of the 19th century, and by that time the columns, as I have mentioned before, were getting a lot racier. It was pretty much an open secret that ads weren't what they claimed to be. But of course, they can't be explicit. A prostitute becomes a "masseuse", for example. And a guy who wants a night on the town, or a woman who needs a little extra help to pay the rent claim that they're looking for a spouse.

This isn't guesswork on my part, either. There's some pretty convincing evidence to suggest that this particular paper was actually changing people's ads to include the "matrimony" bit if they didn't put it in themselves. This way the paper avoided printing ads which would otherwise be considered "obscene." Which is kind of amusing, because honestly? A girl can't even seek the "friendship" of some elderly gentleman without it being obscene? It's a pretty interesting sign of how times have changed, because other than agreeing to disclaimer that says you're 18 and don't mind looking at explicit material, you can go into any of the Craiglist personals and see this stuff all over the place - no "object matrimony" required.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2009 Pam Epstein


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