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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Oh how I love these ads! Love, love, love. One of the greatest disappointments for me in all my dissertation research is that I have found nothing, not one thing, not one single scrap of evidence, in which anyone wrote about, objected to, answered, investigated, or even acknowledged the existence of this particular type of ad and the men who published them. What I wouldn't give for the story behind these!

Agreeable young man (25) desires position of any character from lady; absolute confidence assured.  Address Honorable, 153 Broadway, Brooklyn.

A lonely young bachelor, discreet, refined, offers his services in confidential capacity to large, stylish miss or widow, 25 to 30, financially independent; no others; object, matrimony.  Thoroughbred, 416 Herald.
Thoroughbred?  Thoroughbred??  Come on!  How did this make it into the paper?  Now, I don't know that that word has the sexual innuendo that it does today, but the fact that it's there suggests that, well, it must have done!  Otherwise, what would this mean?  I suppose he could be saying just that he's of good, old, White Anglo-Saxon Protestant American stock, but Thoroughbred horses are, according to Wikipedia, particularly known for being hot-blooded, spirited, agile, and they "perform with maximum exertion."  Oh lordy, am I getting away from being family friendly here?  Do I have a terribly dirty mind?  Is there anyone out there who didn't immediately think the same thing I did?  No one?  Just me, then?

Moving on!

In all seriousness, whatever you make of "Thoroughbred," the implications of these ads are clear.  They promise discreet and confidential services to women only, and really, if they wanted jobs as manservants they'd be advertising in the "Help Wanted" section, not the Personals column.  Fine, the one guy says "object, matrimony," but that is just being coy.  I suppose he'd probably marry a very rich woman if she wanted to, but he's not expecting it.  He's just being, well, discreet.

But the sad thing is, I'll never know.  Never, never.  It's true that there's plenty about these ads I'll never know.  I'll probably never find out the truth about Sadda Rang and Lalla Rang, and I don't know really who most of these advertisers were.  But at least I have contemporaries talking about that kind of ad -  acknowledging them - usually criticizing them - but often speculating just as I do about who the advertisers were and what they were doing.  And there was a lot of outrage over them.  There was outrage over ads in which generous gentlemen wanted to make the acquaintance of working girls; there was outrage over ads in which reduced ladies wanted to meet gentlemen of means.  But no one - no one - ever even referred to ads like the two above.  It was like a total willful blindness to imagine that there would be women in the world who would hire men for sex.

I'm going to get a little OT here and ramble down history road, but, one of the stereotypes about Victorian Americans is that they were sexually repressed.  But, they talked about sex all the time - mostly negatively, but they were really obsessed with it.  Here's a place where I think the repression was real.  The possibility that women might actually have any kind of desire was just impossible to fully grasp and so they just avoided it altogether.  At least that's my opinion.  Because believe me, these people were almost as fascinated with personal ads as I am, and yet unlike me - this was the one type of ad they almost never, ever, ever talked about.*

Which is too bad because man I wish I could find out more.

*I do have one instance in which someone answered one of these ads and then published a reply, but they never actually followed up to find out exactly what services the man offered.  The letter was suggestive, but really all he said was that he was free during the day and liked to have fun.

©2010 Pam Epstein


mike August 31, 2010 at 11:36 PM  


Anonymous September 2, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

That is just lovely. Thoroughbred, indeed.

Cari Hislop September 3, 2010 at 6:45 PM  

A man signing himself, Thoroughbred immediately brings Stallion to my mind! I thought it was funny that the second one was advertising for large ladies...all the lonely fat widows in tightly laced corsets must have sat there fanning themselves. I wonder how many replies he received. If he found some of them weren't fat did he still uh...decide to provide services?
Oh the curse of not being able to ask impertinent questions of the dead!

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