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

26 COMMENTS

  1. Mail order wives were left without options in the 1800s. If they were left without means (no father, brother, uncle or cousin) to “take them in” by a relative or made to work in factories, laundries, etc. in order to live. What cultured woman would really want to go west? She had to be desperate. I’m quite sure there were some women in that time period who were feisty enough to blaze a trail to the west to meet a husband, but not many. If a woman wanted to marry and have a family, she might take the chance instead of being a “spinster” (proof that a woman was no man’s choice.) In a way, computer dating is very much like letter writing to a prospective spouse. It’s easier to write via computer or letter than to speak face to face. I once read that out west, there were ten men for every woman. Probably, because men heading west were either hunted by the law, were an Indian fighter, buffalo hunter, a prospector or a rancher/farmer looking for land. Loneliness is what brought men and women together. It still is.

  2. Good article I would probably be one of the women that were mail order brides, the adventure not with standing .

  3. It’s not a given that bride would have a “wedding dress.” That statement implies an economic level that most women considering Mail Order Bride status didn’t have. It most often was not a choice, primarily it was desperation, economical or emotional. Much like the Orphan Train children. Some women were motivated by newness of the west and ability of women to homestead and vote, but lacked monies to travel to the area.

    • Dear Alice,
      Thank you for your input. Actually back those days the wedding dress could be any other color. Just a dress made for the occasion.
      I believe regarding the expenses they could be covered.

  4. This was a wonderful article. The life of women in the old days was hard and I believe that there are women today who wouldn’t be able to handle life in the old days. So many women complain about life today, that I wonder I they would make it back in the 1800’s when life was even harder.

    • Dear Patricia,
      Each era has its difficulties I like to say. Humans are adjustable and let alone women. I would like to think that we would have made it! (The romantic in me always looks at the past and future optimistically!)

  5. This article was very interesting and enlightening. It is similar to online dating now. Hopefully some of these men and women found true love. Thanks for sharing the article. I enjoyed it.

    • Dear Jo Ann,
      Thank you for your kind words and your input.
      To be honest that is what I have been thinking. The means is the same the era is different. Hopefully all girls and boys who risk taking the initiative will find love in the end!

  6. This is very informational! A book about the ladies who were mail order brides, their trials & tribulations and the outcomes would be very interesting and a good read!

    • Dear Joyce,
      Thank you for your words. I am interested in writing mail order bride stories. So hopefully you will enjoy my work!

  7. Very risky, I don’t think I’d be able to do it. But then an arranged marriage with someone you couldn’t stand to unite two families, might be incentive enough to make me. You’re right they were very courageous by taking their right to make their own choice.

    • Dear Debbie,
      Thank you for your input! I believe “courage” is the key word for these ladies. I truly admire them!

  8. Definitely that era’s dating APP’s. Lonely single seeking companionship, with hopes of something more. Brave women to be sure, but so are those dating today. There were definitely risks then and now. But if you were and are fortunate enough, you’d end up with someone to share your life with. And if you’re really lucky, someone to share love with!

    • Dear Chreryl,
      That is so true! However, there were practical reasons as well. At the West the men were mostly in gold diggers and they did not have wives in the first place. When gold did not hit them, reality did. They wanted a female companion and thus, the mail order bride industry developed.

  9. Sobering when you think of The latitude women have today. Interesting article…another in a long line of great articles. Thank you.

  10. To have a wedding dress in the 1800s implies a level of income not often seen. My great grandmother chose a fetching olive green number for its serviceability and heavy fabric. Practicality had to guide all choices in colonial Tasmania of 1840s.

    • Very interesting comment, Lynne!
      Your great grandmother sounds like a very adventurous woman!
      Thanks a lot! 🙂

  11. Great article. Mail orders brides were very strong women. Not sure if the modern woman of today could do what they had to do.

  12. I have heard that there are still mail order brides, coming from Russia and Ukraine to the New World. All of them, past or present, are either brave or foolish, depending on whom you ask. I think circumstances change, but people don’t. Marrying a stranger is a risk, but so is marrying someone you think you know.

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