Friday, February 12, 2016

Advertising for Marriage, Nineteenth Century Style

More and more adults are turning to online dating sites to find their true love. According to the Pew Research Center, which studies the internet and technology (among other things), usage among 18 to 24 year olds has tripled since 2013, and usage among 55 to 64 year olds has doubled. But the internet is only the most recent way lonely hearts have advertised for companions. In the nineteenth century, one was more likely to purchase an advertisement in a newspaper.

Both in England and the U.S., “matrimonial” newspapers served as matchmakers between men and women looking to marry. A publication called “Wedding Bells” was published regularly out of Boston, and other such publications were hawked in England. Unfortunately, there is little evidence as to the efficacy of these ads. How many respondents actually found true love and lived happily ever after?

Certainly, there were concerns about the practice. For one thing, more sophisticated ladies and gentlemen did not feel comfortable having their information bandied about in “common” publications. Many readers turned to more genteel journals. In 1876, the Phrenological Journal and Life Illustrated, which compiled insights into science, literature, “and general intelligence,” received a sufficient number of queries about offering space for matrimonial ads that the editors decided to open a column. The ads would feature no more than 6 entries per issue, listing qualifications of the person seeking marriage and qualifications wished for in the partner for the hefty fee of $25.00 (equivalent to more than $500 today).

In 1839, Walks and Wanderings in the World of Literature, a high-brow London paper, decried the advertisements, claiming the men were only looking for a lady with money. The editors suggested that a group of women should band together to trick these fellows into the open, then tar and feather them and let them out into the streets, “to be barked at by dogs, pelted by the boys, and laughed at by all.”


If you’d like to read some of these announcements and an excellent commentary on them, try the now-defunct blog Advertising for Love, which was part of the research for a doctoral thesis project.

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