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Stranger in the city

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

This is a little sad.  I see ads from women who are desperate for husbands all the time - alone in the city - but rarely are there explanations why there are all these women who are "strangers," who don't know anyone, who suddenly need husbands.  This ad gives a tiny hint about what might be going on.

Matrimonial. - A young lady, of 19 years, a resident of Boston, and a stranger in this city, having left home very unexpectedly, desires to make the acquaintance of a gentleman of means and good standing.  To the right kind of person this is a rare opportunity to make the acquaintance of a modest, pretty girl.  Address Mary, box 129 Herald office.
Okay, now I don't know the exact situation, but the line in which she says that she "left home very unexpectedly" is telling.  Either she left home very suddenly on her own volition to escape something or someone, or she was kicked out by her parents or guardian.  By her own choice or not, however, I don't think this "unexpected" departure was desirable.  Like maybe her parents found out that she'd had premarital sex and were so horrified that they made her leave.  Or she eloped with some guy, they ran off to New York City together, and then he deserted her at the alter.  Or she was just miserable at home and ran away.  I lean toward the later two scenarios, because they would make sense under the circumstances - either way she probably couldn't - or at least felt she couldn't - go home.  Why else is a Boston girl in New York? 

(Now this ad was written in the early years of the Civil War, but I don't think that had anything to do with it, necessarily.  People up north weren't heavily affected in their daily lives in New York and Massachusetts, at least not yet, unless a husband/father/son, etc, died.  But this was written before the war started to get really ugly and bloody.)

Anyway - perhaps she only has herself to blame for getting into this quandary, but I still feel for her.  At least a guy who ran away from home would have the chance to get a decent job.  In the 1860s, when this ad was written, a woman's options would be quite limited.  No husband or family was, of course, devastating, as I've said numerous times before.  So although the exact events are impossible to know, I still think this gives just a tiny bit of insight into who all these women alone in the city were.  They were abandoned, deserted, widowed, disinherited, thrown out...and desperate.

I wonder if girls like this ever got replies to their ads?  Or did they get lost in the big city?  I fear the latter is the more likely possibility, but I hope I'm wrong.

Having trouble reading the ads? Click one to enlarge!

©2010 Pam Epstein

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