Mail Order Bride: Myth or Legend?

Cassidy Hanton

The first cover of a Mail Order Bride novel was so serene that it caught my eye in an instant. The picturesque wilderness of the mountains, the river and a couple hugging each other created a warmth in my heart. I immediately wanted to buy it.

I enjoyed the story and I thought to myself that it must have been the writer’s vivid imagination to make women want to avoid trouble by moving to another town—that is what I thought about the Mail Order Bride business at the time!

Mail Order Bride…

Why would anyone want to be one? Can you imagine putting on a wedding dress in a suitcase for a guy you’ve never met?…Good gracious!

I know for me it would look like I dressed up for a Halloween night. A day to have fun that would soon be over. But, obviously, some women wanted the party to keep going!

After a while, in the genre of Western Historical Romance that won me over, I realized that the one with the vivid imagination was me; thinking that women of the previous century were just as free as the women in the modern U.S. Apparently, the Mail Order Bride business was not a myth. It was a legend in its own right.  

Women were ready to get out of their comfort zone—or desperate zone for the matter—and head for the adventurous life in the Wild West.

Desperation does lead to hectic, risky decisions. Being willing to escape my life by putting on a wedding dress and off I go, wouldn’t be a road I would like to take. How about you?

Well, the brave women of the old days apparently thought it was a stepping stone to something greater…

The procedure went as follows: a man or a woman placed an ad in a catalog. They wrote certain characteristics of theirs and then, they exchanged letters. Nobody wanted to make a trip to no avail.

In other cases, a matrimonial club played the role of the matchmaker. The members of the club paid a small annual fee and an additional small one to receive a catalog with all the new entrances. The single women and men were advised to reply quickly to the ad that appealed to them the most. Fear of somebody snatching love and luck out of their hands was right in front of them.

Sometimes, though, things took an unexpected turn. Like the ad implies here, not all trips were successful. And that is a sign of relief as women were not forced to marry someone they did not like.

There is also the case of  Eleanor Berry. She responded to a San Francisco magazine ad. “Lonesome miner wants a wife to share stake and prospects,” the ad read. “Please respond to Louis Dreibelbis in Grass Valley, California.”

Eleanor Berry exchanged letters and found herself smitten by her miner. However, on the way to him she fell victim to a robbery. Nobody could have guessed her shock though when she discovered that Louis, her groom, was actually the same man who had conducted the robbery… Eleanor Berry had a nervous breakdown after a public announcement of the story and a local scandal. They say she healed but nobody knows how that story ended.

Yet, we have testimonies of several Mail Order Brides that actually made it! The lonely miners who had set off to find gold realizing that life was sweeter with a company filled the ads. After the civil war, many women stayed single. Rich ladies who wanted to avoid arranged marriages were decisive enough to take the trip to the West. Loneliness, desperation, the thrill of adventure led the hearts and minds of those decisive women to take matters in their own hands. It was a risk, but what life would be without risks?

After reading several Mail Order Bride novels, I couldn’t help myself but wonder about the bravery of these women. How they must have had a will of steel to pick up their treasure to go to meet a man they did not know. They were my inspiration at the time that helped me make a brave decision of my own. I actually asked out a man I liked. Things did not go as I would like them to but at least, at the time, I got my answer. And I am sure that women who did not find their beau after their trip to the unknown had no regrets at all.

A single, modern woman goes for cocktails hoping to meet a nice guy and start living a wonderful romance. Back then it was a letter and a wedding dress. And for some single ladies maybe that would be ideal even today!

Life is an adventure after all. Who wants to live with “what ifs”?…

Written by Cassidy Hanton

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