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Business first

Friday, May 7, 2010

These two ads were right next to each other, and they're great examples (especially the first) of why people found matrimonial ads so disturbing. The businesslike nature really worried observers, who thought, you know, if people just got married for money - or if there was no difference between a wife and a business partner - then marriage itself was at risk. And as we all know from the current debate over gay marriage, marriage is loaded with meaning. As the central institution of society, goes the reasoning, if marriage is not contracted for the right reasons (back then: for love only), it doesn't just affect the individuals involved. It affects everyone. So ads like this were actually threatening:

A widow, aged 26 years, of refined and agreeable manners and prepossessing appearance, wishes to form the acquaintance of a gentleman of refinement and wealth, with a view to matrimony; and none but those who have means and are willing to render immediate assistance, need apply. Address Mrs. Leonard, station P, Post office, N.Y.

A gentleman of this city desires to find a lady as a partner in business, or with a view to matrimony. One with some means and some furniture preferred. Address box 70 Broadway Post office.

Mrs. Leonard was clearly in dire straits and not thinking too much about romance or marrying for love, and I do sympathize with that. If a middle-class woman didn't have a husband or other family member who could support her, she's screwed. (See one of my favorite novels for a powerful critique about this: The House of Mirth.) It would have been almost impossible to support herself and there were very few services to help out. But I'm not sure that this was the best way to go about finding a rich husband. It's good that you are refined and agreeable and all that, but flat out stating that you need someone who can give you money immediately probably isn't going to be all that tempting. You should at the very least say something about how you're loving and kind and will make a happy home and all that. As opposed to: I only want to get married to someone rich so that he can pay off my pressing debts. I wonder how many men out there were saying: sign me up for that! Answer: not many.

The second ad is kind of funny; why is everyone so obsessed with furniture lately? He is a lot like the guy I wrote about last week, but he specifically needs to find a woman who will help run/fund his business. In fact, he says "partner" first, which is interesting - like getting married would be a second choice and unnecessary. If all he's looking for is a business partner, why does he stress that he wants to meet a lady? Does he propose living in sin? I wonder. I also find the part about owning furniture hilarious. That sounds more like an ad for a roommate that you might find on Craigslist. Again, not so terribly appealing. But I suppose a woman who is interested in having a career of some sort might be interested in this - it'd be hard for a woman to open her own business, but if she could be a partner in someone else's, it might give her a little independence.

Well, folks, it's too nice outside for me to stay indoors any longer, so I'm off to enjoy the beautiful weather. Have a great weekend!

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


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