Sunday, January 16, 2011

Mail Order Bride Romances

I write contemporary western romances but I have a fondness for historical westerns with Mail Order Bride plots. A contemporary Mail Order bride story that stuck with me long after reading it was Annie in the Morning by Curtiss Ann Matlock. (SSE) There's something very romantic about a man and a woman agreeing to take a leap of faith and marrying each other after exchanging only a handful of letters.

I love strong heroines and Mail Order Brides are among the strongest fictional heroines out there. It takes a very brave (or desperate) woman to travel West alone, straight into the arms of a strange man. Mail Order Brides were a sturdy breed, courageous and possessed a sense of adventure. What drove women to marry a practical stranger—a chance to escape poverty or the servant job they were stuck in or the fear of dying a spinster. If not for women, the West would never have become civilized. Women, not men, saw the need for schools, churches and libraries.

Often the humor in the Mail Order Bride plots is derived from the hero, heroine or both attempting to dupe the other. The hero implying in his advertisement that he is five-feet-ten inches tall and solid muscle, wealthy and owns a large parcel of fertile land. The heroine answering the hero's advertisement with a glowing description of her beauty (and a photo of a women other than herself) and her impressive homemaking skills. Many of the brides arrived only to discover their new husband had one change of clothing, lived in a shanty and owned nothing but the tin plate he used to pan for gold. In turn, the man discovered his new wife was taller, broader and uglier than himself and couldn't bake a decent loaf of bread if her life depended on it.

I highly recommend reading Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chriss Enss (2005) This is a terrific book!

Hearts West includes more than a dozen stories of courageous mail order brides and their exploits. Accompanying the text are actual advertisements placed by both women seeking husbands and men seeking brides.

Following are actual advertisements Enss included in her book:

Wanted: A girl who will love, honest, true not sour; a nice little cooing dove and willing to work in flour:"

"A gentleman of 26 years old, 5 feet 3 inches, doing a good business in the city, desires the acquaintance of a young intelligent and refined lady possessed of some means, of a loving disposition from 18 to 23, and one who could make home a paradise."

"An intelligent young fellow of 22 years, 6 feet height, weight 170 pounds Would like to correspond with a lady from 18 to 22. Will exchange photos: object, fun and amusement, and perhaps when acquainted, if suitable, matrimony."

"A lively widower of 40, looking much younger, 5 feet 7 inches high, weighing 145 pounds would like to correspond with some maiden or widow ladyof honor who would like a good home, kind husband and plenty."

"A lady, 23, tall, fair and good looking, without means, would like to hear from a gentleman of position wanting a wife. She is well educated, accomplished, amiable, and affectionate."

If you have any "Mail-Order Bride" stories in your family tree, I'd love to hear about them!

Marin Thomas
Roughneck Cowboy *Men of the West* Feb 2011
The Bull Rider's Surrender E-HQ March 2011
Rodeo Daddy *Rodeo Rebels* April 2011
The Bull Rider's Secret *Rodeo Rebels* July 2011
Riley's Story (w.t.) *Rodeo Rebels* Dec 2011


  1. MARIN--oh, how I wish I had some "mail-order brides" stories in my family background. I love romances about mail-order brides, and they never seem to get old.

    The ads were priceless! I tried to read between the lines when one said he was tall and intelligent, or whatever. It seemed all of them wanted the same woman--one who was smart, between 18-23, can make their home a paradise, etc. Fortunatley--or not--many young women were available for marraige. What other lot in life did most, if not all, have?
    I've wondered how many loveless marriages were made throughout the centuries. Today, it's a requirement, isn't it, to accept a ring and a man. We want love--not convenience.

    Arranged marriages fall in the same category.
    My grandmother met her future husband--my grandfather--when she was eleven and carrying her doll. He wandered to their farm and asked for work, and also asked for the child's hand in marriage. He was in his twenties. Reminiscent of a Bible story, it was agreed he could work until she turned 13, then he could marry her. Thirteen!!! Can you imagine? But Granny and Papa made a good marriage--love?--I have no idea, but they were loving, generous people and produced seven wonderful children, one of whom was my daddy.
    Thanks for this reminder and I'll see if I can find that book.
    Excellent! Celia

  2. I really enjoyed your post about Mail Order Brides. I love mail order bride stories, and stories about arranged marriages. I think both encompass the same kind of thing...that BIG leap of faith that marrying someone entails...especially someone you don't know at all or not very well.

    The book sounds like a great read. I've ordered it in Kindle format and can't wait for a chance to read it.

    Thanks for bringing it to our attention. Are there other similar books that you enjoy? I'd love to read about more of them.

  3. Marin, I also love mail-order bride stories. A woman had to be desperate to risk marrying a complete stanger far from home. I also love Curtiss Ann Matlock's books.

  4. Hi Marin:

    I really enjoyed your post!

    I’m a big fan of Marriage of Convenience stories. I think these are among the most powerful romance themes. They avoid the romance and go straight to the marriage. Instant gratification. That’s the appeal. Imagine you’re single, want to get married, and have no prospects. Even if you find the right person, you may waste years with someone who will not commit. MofC avoids all that.

    Mail Order Bride stories are MofC themes with the added problem of not knowing the other person very well. That they were done at all, I think says something important about marriage at the time.

    There is a lot more to marriage than a spouse! Yes, a spouse is necessary but not sufficient. The woman might want a home, children, the status and occupation of wife, the place of wife in society, children to provide social security in old age, friendships with other wives. The man also gets a lot more than just a companion. The actual individual may not be as important as the perceived package of benefits. This is harder for use to understand today with women’s liberation, birth control, and a social safety net.

    I think we look at Mail Order Bride stories too romantically. I believe that some form of arranged marriage was the norm for most of history. Of course, it is the job of the romance author to make these stories romantic -- which some of them must have been. And I believe that an author has a better chance to create a romance if she has a better understanding of the basic facts.

    I am also a fan of Curtis Ann Matlock who I have had the pleasure of meeting in Tulsa.


  5. It's hard to imagine the courage and hardiness of these women. The ads are indeed priceless. I'll have to get my hands on this book.

  6. Hi, Marin. I have this book and used it for a few blogs, as well information for one of my own stories, Salvation Bride. It is another Chris Enss book, who wrote the one on Frontier Teachers mentioned in my blog below. I really do recommend her books for those researching the Old West. She does a great job at relaying the stories of those brave women who traveled West in search of a better wife.

  7. LOL....typo...."in search of a better LIFE!"

  8. Hi Everyone--I guess there are a lot of us out there who enjoy the Mail Order Bride Romances :-) And I agree romance writers make the theme romantic in their stories--I'm sure there were marriages back then where romances back then where the bride and groom never came to love one another but treated the other as a business partner etc... but I'd rather believe everyone received the HEA in the end!

  9. I have the Hearts West book and you are so right - it has some unbelievable stories inside. Lots of good ideas, too, for our stories. You have to respect how the women found a 'way' to survive even if marrying a man they didn't know to better whatever they were forced into back home.

  10. Marin,
    I'll have to look for this book. It sounds fascinating. It's amazing to me how women survived during those times. I don't think I would have wanted to be a pioneer. But my great great grandmother had a marriage of convenience. She was from Alsace Lorraine, and he was from Holland, and they didn't even speak the same language. She needed to marry or the Catholic Bishop in Texas planned to send her home. She wanted to stay in Texas as did her sister. They both acquired their husbands and made a successful life, I believe filled with love. She had two groups of children. One group born in the middle to late 1840s and 50s, and one group born in the early 1860s. They were very industrious people.

    Thanks for your fun blog. :-)

  11. This is really a nice and informative, containing all information and also has a great impact on the new technology. Thanks for sharing it, mail order bride


Thank you for visiting Sweethearts of the West! We are very sad to require comment moderation now due to the actions of a few spam comments. Thank you for your patience.