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If it seems too good to be true...

Thursday, April 29, 2010 probably is.

Check out these two ads for example:

Charming lady of fine appearance, loving disposition, worth $30,000, desires to marry at once; no objection poor or workingman.  Will assist husband financially immediately after marriage.  No triflers.  Mrs. Morton, J.Q., 98 5th ave., Chicago.
Wealthy gentleman, income $10,000 yearly, desires the acquaintance of a kind-hearted widow or maiden to take charge of home, with view to matrimony.  No objection to poor or working girl.  Mr. Norten, B.N., Old Times Bldg., Chicago.

Amazing!  A wealthy woman named Mrs. Morton and a wealthy man named Mr. Norten from Chicago advertise on the same day, right next to each other, in a DC newspaper, both saying they'll marry someone poor!  Who are these wonderful people?  How generous!  How selfless!  How...ridiculous!!!  It boggles the mind that anyone would fall for this, but they did, in huge numbers.  And these are just two examples of hundreds and hundreds of ads of this nature.  They were all over the country.  So what was the deal?  Well, as you might imagine, these were great big swindles.  A foolish mark would write to Mrs. Morton or Mr. Norten, conjuring up fairy tales of comfort and luxury, and in return they'd get a circular inviting them to join (for a fee, of course) a "matrimonial agency."  And then one of two things would happen: either they'd pay the fee and never hear from the agency again, or they'd be "matched" with some other person who had fallen for the same trick but was no more wealthy than they. 

I don't want to judge these people too harshly.  People fall for scams all the time when it should be self-evident that they are tricks (those emails from Nigerians?  Actually are sometimes successful).  And I suppose a very poor person, who can't make a living, who's lonely and desperate, might see an ad like this and say, "Maybe...?"  I can sympathize with that.

By the way, I for once am not making up what's going on here.  An entire chapter of my dissertation is about these "matrimonial agencies" and how they worked.  There were legitimate ones, but you'd be amazed just how many of these cons there were.  I won't go into it here, but why they succeeded when to us this would be so obviously fake says a lot about American culture at the time. 

In any event, I do have some great news that hopefully isn't too good to be true (although it feels that way), which is that I have set a date for my dissertation defense, next month.  All my committee members have confirmed that it'll work, so short of some disaster we're on (keeping the date to myself for now, though, just to be safe).  I'm so nervous, but you know what they call the person who writes the worst dissertation ever and barely passes?  "Doctor."

(Of course, I hope I haven't written the worst dissertation ever - but it's comforting to remember that nonetheless.)

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge! ©2010 Pam Epstein


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