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Have funds, will travel

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A lady, tired of the conventionalities of fashionable life, desires to form, through the medium of the pen, the acquaintance of a gentleman of birth and education, with a view to matrimony.  He must possess all those traits which characterize an honorable man - be a good companion, of temperate habits, and used to the best society.  One who has a taste for traveling preferred, as the advertiser purposes visiting Europe during the fall.  Only those who can answer the above requirements need reply.  No communications will be regarded unless enclosing cartes de visite.  Address Georgie M., Madison square Post office, N.Y.
This ad doesn't seem like anything particularly special, but when you really examine it, it has a number of notable features.  Or rather, more accurately, it lacks a lot of key features that matrimonials from women almost always contain.

As I've talked about before, most women in the 19th century (really for most of history) had to marry at least in part for financial reasons.  There were few well-paying jobs for women, it was taboo for a middle or upper-middle class woman to work at all, so a husband with a stable income was really important.  That almost always shows up to some degree or another in ads - just take for example the one in my op-ed.  Carrie Howard's ad is certainly charming, but she does include "wealthy" as one of the qualifications her "lucky gentleman" must have.

So while I've seen a fair number of ads in which the woman doesn't mention money, it is still striking that she doesn't say anything about it at all.  Now that is not to say it doesn't matter - the man she wants to meet must be a member of good society and a "gentleman of birth" who could afford to travel, and I suspect she just took for granted that such a man would be financially well off.  But she must have money of her own, if she plans to take a trip to Europe, which means she is one of those lucky rare self-sufficient women.  In fact, she seems to be quite independent all around - she's going to Europe, apparently, whether or not anyone goes with her.  She does not say she "proposes" visiting Europe; she says she "purposes" it, which is much more definitive.  Interesting.

Also interesting: absolutely no description of herself.  Doesn't say her age - doesn't even say a "young lady" or "not 40" or anything.  Her name, "Georgie," makes me think she must be fairly young - that just sounds like a girl's nickname - but her tone seems very mature to me.  There's also no physical description, nothing about her personality.  Very rare to see ads from women that don't at least include their age range, and something about being refined, prepossessing, kind-hearted, or whose friends call them attractive, etc.

Finally, the part where she's tired of the "conventionalities of fashionable life."  That reminds me a little of J. Serious and Minnie.  I wonder, exactly, what she means.  I suppose she's bored with all the innumerable rules of etiquette that women in particular had to follow.  Or maybe she's just referring to the fact that she's using a personal ad, which would certainly have been unconventional.

I don't know.  There's something about her I like, though.  She seems very self-assured and confident.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


SSillin February 17, 2010 at 12:04 PM  

I was excited to find your blog through the NY Times article. Great stuff!

I was also struck by the use of "purpose" in this ad, so I looked it up in the O.E.D. and noticed that the first meaning they list for it as a verb is quite close to propose, while to intend or resolve is listed as the third meaning. It seems to me like one of the interesting things about this ad is the multiple ways it can be read (perhaps intentionally so): as you mention, she's ambiguous about whether or not she's looking for someone wealthy and she could either be saying that she proposes visiting Europe if she finds a gentleman to travel with or that she intends to go, regardless.

Bianca C February 17, 2010 at 10:57 PM  

Heh - I totally imagined her as a Kate Hepburn-type in her late 30s. While I am sure she wasn't planning to wear trousers, I feel something formidable coming through. I wish we could find out about her. :-)

Pam February 18, 2010 at 7:57 AM  

SSillin - Thanks! I think at the time "purposes" was used much more frequently in the latter meaning. But - I think the ambiguity is interesting too.

Bianca - Totally!

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