You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

Buying a Bride

Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches

Marcia A. Zug
Copyright Date: 2016
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 320
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Buying a Bride
    Book Description:

    There have always been mail-order brides in America-but we haven't always thought about them in the same ways. InBuying a Bride, Marcia A. Zug starts with the so-called "Tobacco Wives" of the Jamestown colony and moves all the way forward to today's modern same-sex mail-order grooms to explore the advantages and disadvantages of mail-order marriage. It's a history of deception, physical abuse, and failed unions. It's also the story of how mail-order marriage can offer women surprising and empowering opportunities.

    Drawing on a forgotten trove of colorful mail-order marriage court cases, Zug explores the many troubling legal issues that arise in mail-order marriage: domestic abuse and murder, breach of contract, fraud (especially relating to immigration), and human trafficking and prostitution. She tells the story of how mail-order marriage lost the benign reputation it enjoyed in the Civil War era to become more and more reviled over time, and she argues compellingly that it does not entirely deserve its current reputation. While it is a common misperception that women turn to mail-order marriage as a desperate last resort, most mail-order brides are enticed rather than coerced. Since the first mail-order brides arrived on American shores in 1619, mail-order marriage has enabled women to improve both their marital prospects and their legal, political, and social freedoms.Buying A Brideuncovers this history and shows us how mail-order marriage empowers women and should be protected and even encouraged.

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-8283-0
    Subjects: History, Law
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Front Matter (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents (pp. vii-viii)
  3. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction (pp. 1-8)

    Mention the term “mail-order bride,” and you are likely to conjure up two very different, very contradictory images. One is a sad and gritty portrait of an abused and desperate woman, probably very young, and almost certainly foreign, while the other is the rosy image of a strong and brave pioneer bride, possibly older, and quintessentially American.¹Buying a Brideattempts to reconcile these two images. Looking at the history of mail-order brides from the early years of the Jamestown colony to the present, this book examines how we arrived at these conflicting depictions and why the perception of mail-order...

    • 1 Lonely Colonist Seeks Wife (pp. 11-29)

      The above thoughts illustrate what I believe one of the first mail-order brides might have felt as she traveled thousands of miles from England to settle in the Virginia colony. There is no actual record of the hopes and fears of these young women. Nevertheless, we do know that their arrival in 1619 was eagerly anticipated and desired.

      Marriage was vital to the success of the colony.¹ Wives were needed to create stable family units, produce and care for children, and cement America’s racial and cultural hierarchy. However, the difficulty was that few European women were interested in immigrating. In...

    • 2 The Filles du Roi (pp. 30-46)

      Between 1663 and 1673, nearly eight hundred Frenchwomen immigrated to New France as brides for the male colonists.¹ Known as the filles du roi, or “king’s daughters,” these women were recruited to help solve the colony’s population problem.² The colony had spent years hoping to increase immigration, but most French perceived Canada as remote and dangerous and had no interest in immigrating.³ Moreover, reports from the colony seemed to justify these fears. In 1627 the colony’s governor described the colonists as living in constant terror of Indian attacks: “They are everywhere. They will stay hidden behind a stump for ten...

    • 3 Corrections Girls and Casket Girls (pp. 47-62)

      The female immigration program in Louisiana was initially similar to those of the other early American colonies.¹ Like Virginia and New France, Louisiana had problems attracting colonists and suffered a severe gender imbalance. Louisiana first attempted to address this problem by encouraging intermarriage. However, as time went on and Frenchwomen were increasingly unwilling to move to the dangerous and disease-ridden colony, Louisiana turned to a policy of forced immigration. The conscription of female immigrants was disastrous for Louisiana, starkly highlighting the extreme difference between mail-order brides, women such as the filles du roi and the Jamestown wives who were protected...

    • 4 Well Disposed toward the Ladies: Mail-Order Brides Go West (pp. 63-104)

      On February 2, 1849, Eliza Farnham published a newspaper advertisement seeking “intelligent, virtuous and efficient” women, “persons not under twenty-five years of age,” to marry California’s forty-niners. Interested applicants were asked to provide “satisfactory testimonials of education, character, capacity, etc.” from clergymen or town authorities and to furnish $250 for their transport.¹

      Farnham’s ad appeared shortly after the first reports of life in the gold rush mining camps began making their way back east. In these reports, the camps and mining towns were depicted as overflowing with wild men and teeming with lawlessness and debauchery.² The public found these reports...

    • 5 Advertising for Love: The Rise of Matrimonial Advertisements (pp. 107-132)

      Early American mail-order marriages were supported and even celebrated, but they were also relatively rare. Then, after the Civil War, mail-order marriage became widespread. There were a number of reasons for this change, but one of the most important was the increasing use of matrimonial advertisements. Matrimonial ads benefited American men and women by giving them the ability to create their own mail-order marriages. These ads provided mail-order participants with more information about their potential spouse and more control over the terms of their future marriage. This change made mail-order marriage more attractive to a greater number of women, but...

    • 6 Wanted—Correspondence (pp. 133-156)

      In the years after the Civil War, America experienced an explosion in mail-order marriage. Tens of thousands of women became mail-order brides and used this form of marriage to improve their marital prospects and pursue the greater freedoms available in the American West. However, although the advantages these marital immigrants received were real, the support for mail-order marriage was superficial and fleeting. Once western states achieved their demographic objectives they had little interest in continuing to promote mail-order marriage and quickly stopped extolling its benefits and began emphasizing its dangers. Meanwhile, eastern support for mail-order marriages had always been tenuous,...

    • 7 Marriage at the Border (pp. 157-187)

      Mail-order marriage became widespread in the late nineteenth century, and thousands of American women traveled west as mail-order brides. However, public opinion regarding these marriages was mixed. Western states needed female immigrants and frequently praised and encouraged mail-order marriage. At the same time, these marriages were also criticized as foolish and risky. But as the racial demographics of the brides changed, the conflicted view of mail-order marriage disappeared. The new impression, at least with regard to foreign mail-order marriages, was one of unequivocal hostility.

      Foreign mail-order marriages undermined nineteenth-century U.S. immigration policies enacted to keep out racially, economically, and socially...

    • 8 Mail-Order Feminism (pp. 188-218)

      Mail-order marriage virtually disappeared in the 1950s. It was unneeded, and almost everybody married. However, under a veneer of marital bliss, a backlash was brewing. As feminist historians have persuasively demonstrated, the mid-twentieth-century idealization of marriage created incredible stressors and deep unhappiness for many women. When the popular women’s magazineMcCall’sran an article in 1956 titled “The Mother Who Ran Away,” it was the most widely read article in the magazine’s history. “It was our moment of truth,” said a former editor. “We suddenly realized that all those women at home with their three and a half children were...

  7. Conclusion (pp. 219-224)

    Statistics on the success rates of mail-order marriages are hard to verify. Encounters International, one of the largest match-making agencies, claims 104 marriages and 4 divorces in seven years. Similarly, a lawyer who specializes in fiancée visas, noted that in eight years he had seen 600 mail-order marriages and 21 divorces.¹ In addition, at least one study claims the success rate for mail-order marriages is 80 percent after five years,² which makes it comparable to conventional domestic marriages,³ or perhaps slightly better since the mail-order marriage statistic includes remarriages (which have significantly higher divorce rates).⁴ Regardless, even if these marriages...

  8. NOTES (pp. 225-296)
  9. INDEX (pp. 297-304)
  10. ABOUT THE AUTHOR (pp. 305-305)