Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier (Book Review)

Reviewed by Chrys Ankeny
By Chris Enss
TwoDot, imprint of Globe Pequot Press, Guilford, Conn., 2005

Personal ads for companionship or whatever have a rich tradition in America. During the last third of the 19th century, for instance, the San Francisco–based Matrimonial News promoted "honorable matrimonial engagements and true conjugal facilities" for men and women. Mail-order requests for brides were the natural result of the fact that out West, men could prospect for gold but rarely for respectable females. The gals were mostly in the East, so the guys promised matches made in heaven, or at least in the Sierras.

Sometimes things worked out for the parties involved, as with widow Elinore Pruitt of Arkansas, who answered an ad in the Matrimonial News and found 20 years of matrimonial bliss with honest Clyde Steward. On the other hand, as author Chris Enss writes in the introduction to this delightful 108-page work, teacher Eleanor Berry was not so lucky: "Her mail-order husband misrepresented himself in his letters and the marriage lasted less than an hour."

If the Wild Wild West was ever going to be civilized, of course, women were needed, because without them, men rarely saw fit to build schools, libraries, churches or homes with flower pots in the windows. Of course, the women did not come West to live in poverty. Promises of riches held considerable appeal to both soiled and unsoiled doves. Enss includes the personal advertisements that triggered unions of the sexes and then presents the tales with a flourish or two.

Eleanor Berry answered a San Francisco Magazine ad on April 12, 1873, that read: "Lonesome miner wants wife to share stake and prospects. Please respond to Louis Dreibelbis in Grass Valley, California." Louis, without revealing too many details, turned out to be a bandit, and Eleanor had to confess that her intended husband was "not as well-fixed as I expected to find him." Enss calls them"the Schoolmarm and the Scoundrel."

She also presents the tales of "The Hopeful Bride and the Farmer," "The Homesteader and the Sheep Rancher" and several others. One only wishes that there were more of these matchmaking tales she could tell. Can a mail-order bride live happily ever after? Well, as one modern observer noted, "Better to meet by mail than in jail," but he was talking about e-mail.

11 Responses

  1. Brenda Meyers

    We are looking for images of advertisements for wives in the 1800’s.

  2. heidi Sparling Williams

    Trying to find ANY of the old Heart & Hand mail order bride magazines from the West Coast.

      • Jodie

        I was curious to some of the actual wording of the advertisements for mail order brides.

      • Carole

        Hi Joshua:

        I am looking for an advertisment or poster for mail-order brides from
        late 1880’s

        I am in charge of props for a western film and need to have a poster
        advertising them. However I really would like to be able to change the
        verbage to match our script.

        Can you help me? Thanks

      • Heidi Sparling Williams


        You have some Heart & Hand magazinges? Where published and what years??



  3. linda

    I am writing a book based on my grandmother, who was a mail order bride in the late 1800s from Macrae, Arkansas, answering the ad placed by a man from upper Michigan. Anyone know where I can find information on this era, see an ad, etc.? P.S. Her brother was also in Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show.

  4. Countryboy

    Try the archives of the Mormon Church in Salt Lake City (online http://www.familysearch.org and many other sites / also go directly to the court records in the community where they were wed for information about the couple .. marriage, property ownership, children, death, etc.

  5. Chanda

    My great-grandmother was a mail order bride from Chicago who married a farmer in Nebraska. I’m trying to track down the publication where she placed her advertisement. The ad contained her photograph with an oval frame drawn around it and her name written to the side. We still have that picture, clipped from the magazine, but it is well-worn and the clipping does not contain any identifying information. It does appear that there were other pictures/names on the same page – I can just see the edge of another picture and a partial name at the borders. According to family lore, she also included a short poem she had written, titled “Noble Character,” describing the sort of man she wished to marry. If anyone has any suggestions for which magazine(s) might have published something like that, that would have served the Chicago and Nebraska areas, I would really appreciate the help. Thank you!


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