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MAIL ORDER BRIDES in the old west
"Hearts West: True Stories of Mail Order Brides on the Frontier," by Chris Enss (Globe Pequot Press, 128 pages) In 1865, some 100 Maryland mail order brides, intrigued by leaflets promising them husbands, boarded a ship bound for Oregon. They were spinsters, domestics and adventurers, and they set sail with hopes of improving their situation. The mail order brides excitement was dashed when they went below deck and discovered their living quarters had last been used by mules. They were appalled at the unsanitary conditions, the poor food and the crude language of the crew. The brides as they were called, scoured the ship, took over the cooking and insisted the sailors attend Sabbath services and give up drinking. In April, the ship reached Oregon, where the mail order brides were met by 150 potential bridegrooms. All but seven of the women married, writes Chris Enss in "Hearts West."

Mail order brides travel west
With few career opportunities, 19th-century women were expected to marry. Their expectations weren't high. They hoped for men who were good providers and kind companions. Love was optional. When they failed to find husbands at home, some explored the idea of becoming mail order brides. Many hopeful mail order brides advertised. "Boys, I am a lonesome little girl, alone in the world and earning my own living and am tired of doing so," wrote one, who listed her personal attributes, then concluded, "no Catholics need to write." Another advertised, "Boys, you'll enjoy receiving my letters, for I'm a jolly girl ... Will write for fun or matrimony. Catholic preferred." Men also advertised. "A bachelor of 40, good appearance and substantial means, wants a wife. She must be under 30, amiable and musical." Some of these mail order brides entered into long and happy marriages, but that was not always the case. As she recited her vows, one woman glanced at her future husband's hand and recognized a scar. The man had robbed her stagecoach days earlier.









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