Wednesday, March 16, 2011
I'm currently on my way to Houston, TX for the OAH Annual Meeting (literally on my way, like, I just paid $10 for in-flight internet access. Just closing my eyes to the amount of money I'm spending today), and downloading a tv show to watch from iTunes is taking waaay longer than anticipated so I thought, why not blog? I tried to find an ad about someone wanting a wife who lived in Texas, or even somewhere out west, but no luck. I did, however, find these two ads which I thought were so cute that I stopped looking...
A gentleman of means and a lively disposition desires the acquaintance of a refined, short, affectionate young lady or widow, with a view to matrimony. Address A.D.E., Herald office.
Two widows, teeming with fun and mischief, wish to correspond with some gentlemen of undoubted position and refinement. Matrimony, if agreeable to both. Address Mrs. A Henry and Mrs. M. Morton, station D, Bible House.Wow! Okay the first one is a little more typical. I might not have even bothered with it if it hadn't been adjacent to the second. But I do wonder what a man meant when he described himself as having a "lively disposition." Is he a late-night party animal? Or does he just mean he has a good sense of humor and likes to play charades, or whatever they did for fun back then. (Ha.) He sounds like a pretty cool guy, whatever the case.
But I am much, much more intrigued by the second ad. Two widows teeming with fun and mischief? The mind, it boggles. Since this ad was published less than two years after the end of the Civil War, it's reasonable to assume that these women's husbands died in the war - although obviously that may not be true. But it seems likely...the war certainly did create a whole lot of widows. Doesn't it seem horribly callous to describe yourselves as widows teeming with fun and mischief? Hi, my husband died, but I wanna party!! Yeah!!
But that's not too fair. After all, their husbands could have died 10 years before...but they are still widows, and I suspect in that time it would have been grossly misleading not to state upfront that you had been previously married (that is, not a virgin). And perhaps the kind of men women teeming with fun and mischief would like to meet would be more interested in women with some experience, if you know what I mean. Although I think by the "matrimony, if agreeable to both" the widows just mean, "we want to get married if we meet men we like," but I can't help thinking there might be an undertone there of, "let's hang out, and we'll get married if we feel like it, but we don't have to." Doesn't that seem to be a possible subtext?
And I also have to wonder what they have in mind when they say they're teeming - teeming - with fun and mischief! A lively disposition is one thing. But what kind of mischief are these young widows getting themselves into? I guess printing a matrimonial ad at all would have been mischievous enough...certainly it would have been deeply frowned upon. I wonder if the gentleman and these two widows ever contacted each other? What happened if both women liked him? Or they were in some kind of Midsummer's triangle: the first widow liked him and the second didn't, but he liked the second. Oh the drama that would ensue!
I would love to have seen some of the letters these women received, because they must have gotten dozens and dozens. Whether they intended it or not, this ad is pretty suggestive and I'll bet they got some letters from men who weren't quite as refined as they were expecting. But I guess I'll never know...
As an aside, I wondered if anything could be read into their names - like were Mrs. A. Henry and Mrs. M. Morton really codes for something else, not uncommon in these ads. What I came up with was Henry Morton Stanley, of "Dr. Livingstone, I presume" fame, but he didn't become famous until after this ad was written. Hmm.
©2011 Pam Epstein