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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

You see lots of matrimonials from men in which they specify that they want a woman "of means" or with a fortune for their wives.  And it is interesting to me how they also say that they want a loving wife, with no sense that this could be hard to reconcile, or that women would find this unappealing (they may have done, there's just no way to know).  But this one is a little unique.  Check it out.

A gentleman of education, refinement and moderate income, would wish, with a view to matrimony, to enter into correspondence with a lady between about 25 and 35 years of age; no objection to a widow.  She would be expected to possess sufficient means for herself to live upon respectably.  A kind hearted wife, a friend and companion for life, could be appreciated by the advertiser, whose appearance, character and society no lady would ever have reason to be ashamed of.  Letters to be kept secret and sacred by both parties.  Please address for ten days, from any place, A.C. Courtland, Broadway Post office, near Canal street, New York.

Now the above is mostly pretty typical for this type of ad, in the sense that I mentioned: desire for marital happiness and wealth doesn't appear to present any problem.  But where he differs from the norm is when he says that she "would be expected to possess sufficient means for herself to live upon respectably."  That's...weird.  It's one thing to say that you want a wife whose income can be combined with your own, or even to say you want a wife whose income can help start your business (something, while not romantic, that is at least straightforward).  But to say you want a wife to support herself, in the 1850s when this ad was published, is just a little off.  Does that mean their incomes will be totally separate?  He will only pay for his things and she'll only pay for hers?  And by saying that it must be enough to live upon "respectably," does that mean he wouldn't marry a woman who had money, but not enough to buy nice enough clothes or whatever?

And it's a bit disingenuous anyway, because legally a woman's property became her husband's once married, and while there were a few protections against the husband squandering it entirely, her income was his.  The statement that she must have money for herself to live on implies that he won't ever touch it, and maybe he really meant that.  But the fact was that if he changed his mind and decided he wanted to use her money as he liked (again, aside from some legal restrictions) there's not much she could do about it, unless they signed some kind of pre-nup, which is doubtful. 

Nevertheless, aside from that he seems like a nice guy, and I suppose for a woman who wanted to get married and did have some money of her own he sounds like a good match.  After all, not all women were gold-diggers who only wanted a wealthy husband, and if someone only had "a moderate income," it wasn't necessarily a problem.  It's also possible he meant that innocuously, or at least no differently than other men (as in, he wanted a shared income, which I guess is a fine line, but to me, a real one), but it is an odd way of putting it.

Anyway, the next few weeks are going to be very, very, very busy for me, as I am both defending my dissertation AND moving this month.  What with packing and preparation, I'm going to be pretty distracted.  So I can't guarantee that I'll be posting quite as regularly - but I won't disappear entirely!

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein


drwende May 11, 2010 at 7:00 PM  

The gentleman is being mealy-mouthed. His "moderate" income is not sufficient to support a wife and children, so he's looking for a woman with her own money, but he doesn't want to seem greedy, so she needn't be able to support him.

If he's educated and refined but cannot find a job that supports a family, there's a story behind this situation.

Unknown May 11, 2010 at 8:45 PM  

Good luck with your dissertation defence and with your move. That's two very big things to have going on at the same time.

Pam May 11, 2010 at 11:03 PM  

drwende - Agreed - although to be fair there are lots of people with decent jobs but can't earn a good enough living to support a family.

Sheena - thanks! It's actually been a blessing, because I'm so excited about the move, and have so much to coordinate, that I haven't had time to be nervous about the defense!!

Bianca C May 12, 2010 at 11:00 PM  

Good Luck with all the big stuff!

I wonder if this was his roundabout way of trying to find someone that had enough money that she wouldn't need to marry for that, and to make sure she was at least middle class. It sounds like he wanted to marry, but not rescue someone.

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