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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Hearts West--Mail Order Brides on the Frontier

Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the FrontierHearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier by Chris Enss
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As I read this little book the jingle " you don't have to be lonely at Farmers only dot com" began to play in my mind. This led me to think about Christian Mingle and other on-line dating services and also took me back to personals in the classified section of the newspaper. Are they still there, I wondered, so went in search of today's copy of our local paper--nope, no personals ads anymore. Things change so much is such a short time, I thought, and yet, other things do not.
There continues to be that longing for a special someone in our life and the methods of finding the person may change but the human desire for companionship does not. In Hearts West the primary people longing for someone were the many young and not so young men who made their way to the wide open spaces of the American West, some rushing for gold after the 1849 discovery at Sutter's Mill, or in the Pacific Northwest working in lumber or fishing industries, some ranching in Idaho and the Dakotas or even others in the Midwest who farming. These found themselves in an almost all male environment and before too long they found they wanted wives to share the building of their homes and lives.
Some groups in the West gathered money together and sent emissaries back East to advertise for young women to move to the West and marry. Others merely sent advertisements to papers in the East asking for women to correspond with them with the idea of eventual marriage. For their parts, young women who found themselves in the unenviable position of spinster or orphan or widow responded to the call and packing a bag set out alone or in groups to meet men with whom they may have exchanged a few letters and a picture or two. Many arrived and within hours became the wives of these men.
In this little book, we read short entries of the people who organized the search for the women, and others of the couples who met, married and then made it for decades or managed for, in one case, an hour. All of the stories are interesting, some incredibly sad, others remarkably uplifting, all awe-inspiring in the strength and bravery of the women involved There is a section of actual ads submitted by the men seeking wives, but also ads submitted by women seeking a husband. In a short ad the personalities of the seekers come through--some obviously witty, lighthearted and others more serious and dour. Some, as one man, not interested in Irish women, others, as one woman desiring a Catholic gentleman. It is interesting to see with what bravado or modesty they describe themselves--age, height, weight, hair and eye color, financial status, hope for a compatible mate.
It would seem, then as now, the seeking of a partner required taking a risk of failure but hope, then as now, springs eternal and for some, then as now, there is success and happy ever after.

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