We often hear conflicting stories on a woman’s desire to marry during the Victorian Era. Marriage was a woman’s only means of security, a home of her own, and children. With these privileges, came many hardships—being tied to the home, bearing and caring for five to seven children, endless household tasks, and in a sense, being a servant to her husband. Therefore, many women, though desirous of the joys of marriage, had ambivalent feelings regarding the establishment.
Men, however, had a different outlook on the subject. They viewed marriage as a positive enterprise. Marriage meant sex, pampering, and maid service. For the man trying to ranch or farm, marriage meant someone to help him work the land as well as cook, care for the home, and any children born to them. Often the man was a widower and married just to provide his children with a mother. Love wasn’t a prerequisite. A couple was lucky if respect grew into affection.
Though we realize the above was probably true for the majority of couples, there had to be exceptions. If not, how would writers be able to write those wonderful western historical love stories, the ones with strong, independent women and tough men who weren’t afraid to show their softer side? True, many women had cruel husbands who saw their wives as baby machines and servants, and often abused them. But I believe there were just as many men who adored their wives, who wanted a wife to work alongside them as an equal.
So, how did men and women meet, get acquainted, fall in love, and marry on the frontier in the 1800s? Many met at church, church socials, wedding, corn husking bees, barn raisings, and other socials that usually involved food, music, and dancing. Courting in the old West usually took place at an older age for girls than it did back east. Women were usually in the early twenties when they married. Men married in the middle to late twenties.
Public displays of affection, like kissing at corn husking bees, were more acceptable in the old West than in the east, especially during the earlier part of the century when women were in scarce supply. For dates, the couple took walks, took the buggy or wagon out for picnics, took horseback rides, hayrides, cuddled in the hayloft, and danced at socials.
For men in areas with few women, there were subscriptions to heart-and-hand clubs. The men received newspapers with information about women they could correspond with. Often photographs were included. Over a period of correspondence, the man might convince the woman to join him in the West and marry. Other men found their spouses as picture brides. They might see the picture of a friend’s sister or cousin and invite them to join them in marriage.
In 1849, Eliza Farnham encouraged women to travel to California to meet men and marry. Since only two women accompanied her, Eliza’s efforts weren’t considered successful. Later, Acer Mercer organized two different trips to take women to Washington to become brides to the men living there. Do you remember the 1968-1970 television show Here Comes The Brides? Three brothers risk their logging business to bring 100 women to Seattle to live for a year and hopefully become wives and remain to help settle the territory.
History is loaded with stories to tempt our imaginations. Happy Writing!
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