Wednesday, July 16, 2014

MOB in The Old West ~Tanya Hanson

I first tell in love with the Old West through childhood books like Caddie Woodlawn and the Little House series. Oh, the outdoorsie, pioneer life seemed just right for me. These days I am very much an indoor-plumbing/Marriott sort of girl, but those childhood fantasies just won’t quit. Hence, writing western romance. And one of my favorite themes to read or write is the Mail Order Bride.

In my book Marrying Minda, the good guys of Minda Becker’s Pennsylvania hometown are either dead or severely maimed due to the Civil War. After raising three little sisters, she refuses to be a caretaker anymore. Joining a “hearts and hand club”, she finds the perfect mate: a well-off farmer in Nebraska. She arrives in Paradise wearing her wedding gown and...marries the wrong man.

In my latest, Her Hurry-up Husband, socialite Elspeth Maroney needs to hide from a serious indiscretion in the city. Escaping to the outback of Colorado as a rancher’s MOB--just for one month--sounds about right. But of course she wants to stay with Hezekiah forever after about ten minutes.

Okay, these are fictions. What provoked a woman in the 19th century to partake in such a life-changing decision fraught with danger? We all have happy endings in our books, but was MOB-ing worth the risk?
What would get a woman to travel hundreds of miles to marry a man she didn't know? Or at best, knew only from letters and a tintype or two?

Here’s what I think:

1.  Starting Over.  Like my Elspeth Maroney, her reputation is in tatters and a future in her normal locale is too scandalous.

2.  Lack of Suitable Men.  It’s true. Gender equality didn't exist in much of 19th century America. And I don’t mean voting rights. I mean, as with my Minda Becker...the East had a proliferation of females due to the deadly costs of the Civil War. In the West, the frontier teemed with masculine jobs like logging, gold mining, and starting up a farm or ranch from scratch. Here, men outnumbered women as much as 3, sometimes 4 four, to one.
(dark spots on this census map indicate the highest concentration of males.) 

3.  Her Desire for Excitement and Adventure.  Sounds scary to me without the modern advantages of internet searches, eHarmony, and Google Earth. Goodness, one’s intended might write about a gorgeous, three thousand acre spread that turns out to be a dug-out in the side of a hill. And shivers...maybe he’s an ax murderer...

4.  Civilize and evangelize!  The untamed west was full of saloons and bordellos and pretty short on churches, tea rooms and schools.

5.  Looking for Love...and the usual places just aren't working.

6.  Financial security...she’s down on her luck and has nothing else to try and nowhere else to go.

As for guys advertising for mail order brides, well, we all know their needs: bedroom and kitchen. Just kidding. Men too wanted love, companionship, and families...culture and cleanliness. In 1849, a ship arriving in San Francisco with a promised load of MOB’s actually produced only three..leaving the waiting bachelors so bereft they went on an epic spree of drunkenness.

What do you think? What would motivate a woman to become a mail order bride?

Prim and proper socialite Elspeth Maroney flees from an indiscretion to the Wild West of Colorado as a mail order bride. She doesn’t plan to stay long, only a month. Rancher Hezekiah Steller needs a wife quick to get himself an heir, but what will the stagecoach deliver to his doorstep?

Their worlds collide deliciously until Ellie must confess her mistakes. Will Hez still want her tomorrow?


  1. Tanya, what a fun post! I too love MOB stories - they're right up there with Marriage of Convenience stories as being one of my favorite romance tropes. And you do such a great job of it in your work - adding fun touches of humor along with the romance!

  2. I think financial security had to be the biggest one, especially if her looks hadn't caught a local man's eye. How scary would it be though to just take off away from family and friends and marry someone you really know nothing about??

  3. hi Winnie, I am right with you there...marriage of convenience or planned marriage (e.g. to fulfill the terms of a will...done that one too LOL.) are my favorites. I love the journey of them falling in love. sigh. Thanks so much for posting today, my friend!

  4. Hi Linda, I know, women had so few choices, it seems. I don't even like to drive freeways...traveling not just to meet a stranger but to share his bed doesn't sound that romantic unless we authors get a hold of it LOL. Thanks for the post today.

  5. They must have been difficult times for a woman on her own. How would she support herself? I love reading about these daring pioneer women. Great post and something to think about. Thanks, Tanya.

  6. Tanya--I liked the list of reasons why a woman would be a MOB. The one that always comes to mind is Willa Cather's 'O Pioneers.'
    I imagine the female expected more than the man could or would give, but that's just an opinion.
    I'm another one writing a MOB story, hopefully a series of 3. In the first, she's running away from an abusive, aggressive man..and of course, there's much more to it than that. I toyed with the idea a long time, thought it was a little passé, but I went to Amazon and typed in Books/Mail Order Brides stories. wouldn't believe how many, and from checking the rankings on quite a few, I'd say they are still quite popular as romances.
    We'll see, in my case.
    Thanks for your informative post, and as usual, I like the personal touch.

  7. Hi Tanya! I love MOB stories mostly because the back stories of the heroines are very intriguing! Finances or escaping a bad situation come to mind. A great blog today!!

  8. Hi Celia, well, if any reader is like me, she will never tire of MOB stories. And of course, in our case, the HEA. I wish you great success with your new series! xo

  9. Hi Charlene, yep, life must be throwing a MOB some real curve balls to get her out of her comfort zone LOL. I do think somehow, whether desperate or curious or courageous, she's wanting a new way of life for sure!

  10. MOB--it's one of those concepts that sounds awful in real life, but I can't resist in fiction! LOVE the sound of Marrying Minda and Her Hurry-up Husband. :)

  11. Tanya, I have always wondered what in the world would make a woman so desperate that she would leave everything she knew to go to man and a part of the country that she knew nothing about. And I've always felt kind of sorry for women who felt they had no choice but to do that.

    But then, I started looking at it differently one day, don't know why. Maybe they WANTED to get out where they were--and not for a dreadful reason, but perhaps they were bored and just yearning for some adventure! (Some of them, anyhow.) I loved your story in Lassoing a Mail Order Bride. Hez and Ellie were just perfect for one another!


  12. Hi Sam, I know what you mean...I'd be scared to death! I only love the idea of MOB if she's in the hands of a romance writer! Hugs to you xoxo

  13. hi Cheryl, aw shucks and thank ya kindly! I loved Ellie and Hez' story. I think they will just have to be mentioned in the Judy's story--Ellie's sister LOL.

  14. I like stories that showed how adventurous Old West women could be and the mail-order bride opportunity certainly illustrates that. Liked your article :)

  15. Thanks for posting, Rain. I feel,like such a weenie when I learn more and more about the adventurous, strong women who came before.


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