The long history of advertising for love,
he Founding Fathers knew we needed to pursue happiness. They just didn’t know how hard we would. Freed from the traditions of the old world, the new citizens wanted to choose their mates. That freedom, though, presented new challenges: In this vast young nation, how do you find the right person?
The answer was obvious: Advertise.
Francesca Beauman’s “Matrimony, Inc.” is a lively history of America’s commercialized hunt for romance, from the quaint personals in 18th century gazettes to the crude come-ons of the internet age. Though the specifics change, the challenges remain constant.
It all began in Boston in 1759 when a not too picky fellow ran an ad in the seeking: “Any young lady, between the ages of eighteen and twenty-three, of a middling stature, brown hair, of good Morals.”
By the 1780s, Manhattan’s population of over 50,000 consisted of many newcomers. Already known for its impatient pace, it was a city where people had to create their opportunities.
One day, one man did. “To the Fair Sex,” began the startling ad in the July 23, 1788 “Impartial Gazetteer.” A self-described “young gentleman of family and fortune,” explained he was new in town, and taking this novel approach because he was “desirous of engaging in the holy and happy state of matrimony.”
Identifying himself only as “A.B.,” the bachelor swore he was “not above t wo-and twenty, tall, stout and esteemed agreeable.” He promised to answer all inquiries promptly, whether they be from “maid or widow.”
Oh, but one other thing: Correspondents should be “under 40, not deformed, and in possession of at least 1,000 pounds.”
There’s no record of whether A.B. ever met his rich, undeformed ideal womanan. But his pioneering adver-adver tisement set the blunt style for early personals.
One advertiser in the 18th century “Pennsylvania Packet” said he was looking for a woman “of sound wind and limb, with a clean skin, a sweet breath and a good set of teeth.” Similarly demanding was the 1860 Massachusetts widower who announced, “I don’t want a lantern-jawed or glass-eyed woman.”
Women could be just as picky. Sounding fresh from a bad relationship, one 1851 Virginia advertiser declared no interest in any “simpering fool, who imagines a lady taken off her feet by his smiles.”
Indeed, “no mustached baboon need apply, as no one will please me but a sensible, educated gentleman who ap-ap preciates domestic happiness.”
Personal ads filled several needs in 19th century America. One was entertainment. For a penny, you could get a newspaper filled with people’s little flirtations; for the price of a 2-cent stamp, you could respond. One Union soldier, Edwin L. Lybarger, placed his ad while recuperating in an Army hospital. He received amorous letters for years.
The personals also filled a practical, primary need. The more the country grew, the greater the distances that often separated the sexes.
Single women tended to settle in Eastern cities, where they could find jobs as maids and clerksclerks. Single men often headed west to seek their fortunes on the frontier.
Personal ads became a bridge.
Louisiana seamstress Sara Baines, 22, placed a “husband wanted” ad in a national newspaper in 1869. After a year of opening letters, she decided on Jay Hemsley, 46. She took the train out to meet him in Wyoming. They married the next afternoon. Then, like thousands of others, they set out for California, where they opened a general store in a booming mine town. The marriage lasted 51 years.
Swedish immigrant Augusta Larson, 28, was a Chicago housemaid whenw she answered a “wife waanted” ad in 1892. Ole Ruud, a 43-yearoldold Norwegian imimmigrant, had bought land in Washington State and decided it was time to settle down. Five weeks after Larson arrived in tiny Waterville, they wed. Nine months into their long marriage, the first of many children was born.
But not everyone was so interested in forever after.
By the 1870s, the phrase “Object: Matrimony” competed with “Object: Fun.” Forget some sober farmer; one “gay and festive” woman declared she would be satisfied only by “the handsomest young gentleman in Cincinnati.” Another Ohio ad, placed by “a young lady of 20,”
looked for “a nice middleaged gentleman of means; object, pleasure during the summermer monthsmonths.”’
Come winter, the sugar daddy was on his own.
Unsurprisingly, some matches ended in disaster. Young women traveled hundreds of miles, assuming they were rendezvousing with prosperous, age-appropriate, potential husband material only to find an old coot in a cabin. Brides discovered their new husbands were drunks, bigamists – or worse.
With publications like “Matrimonial News” running hundreds of ads, criminals began scouring them for victims. Carl Mueller married lonely women, took out insurance, then got his friend Dr.
Henry Meyer to poison them. It was a neat scheme until Mueller fell for one of his brides and turned in MeyerMeyer, who wound up behind bars.
Heartless Johann Hoch used personals to meet Marie Walcker, a lonely Chicago widow. The day they met, he proposed marriage. That night, he figured how much her funeral would cost him. Poisoned, she died weeks after their wedding. Caught, and eventually linked to the deaths of at least 50 other women, “the Bluebeard Murderer” was hanged in 1906.
It wasn’t only men who prowled personals, though. Indiana’s Belle Gunness had already married, insured, and buried two husbands when she began looking for love in the Chicago papers. Men who answered her ads and visited her farm tended to disappear. At one pointpoint, 15 abandoned steamer trunks filled her spare room.
It was only after Gunness’ farmhouse mysteriously burned down in 1908 that the truth began to come out. A woman’s headless body was found in the cellar. Buried in the barnyard were the partial remains of 40 men. Investigators guessed Gunness had poisoned her victims, then dismembered them. Whatever she didn’t bury, she fed to her pigs.
Stories about these and other personal-ad psychos – Harry Powers, who inspired “The Night of the Hunter,” Raymond Fernandez and
Martha Beck, “The Honeymoon Killers” – drove down the interest in matrimonial columnscolumns. Although the ads later had a revival, with hip Gothamites looking for love in New York magazine, they weren’t as necessary anymore.
Singles bars were more immediate and would be replaced by computer dating out of the punch-card. Eventually, algorithms supposedly offered up your perfect match. In a hurry? No need to spend months searching for Mr. Right. Just get the Tinder app and find Mr. Right Now.
Tinder’s famous swipe, like so many great innovations, was borne of an everyday moment.
“I was getting out of the shower one morning, wiping the mirror because the room was steamy, and I saw myself staring back at myselfmyself,” says Jonathan Badeen, the third person to join the company. “Then I wiped the other direction. All of a sudden it clicked.”
Today, “one in three relationships begin online and one in five marriages are a result of a dating website or app,” Beauman writes.
While how folks advertise themselves has changed, what they want hasn’t. They’re still seduced by good looks, money, and charm. The lovelorn still hope that this time, this one, will be different.
And they their weight. still lie about
business as usual for Trump, , as his newly revealed tax returns prove. prove The real scandal wasn’t even the $750 he paid in taxes in 2017, it’s that he’s in so much debt he’s the ideal target of any kind of influence operation, as long suspected. Someone with that much leverage over him and his family shouldn’t be allowed to mow the White House lawn, let alone speak from the Rose Garden.
Vladimir Putin, the Saudis and other dictatorships that work like mafias are always on the lookout for vulnerable companies and business owners they can use to launder their looted billions and to gain influence in the free world. Trump’s fawning over Putin and Mohammed bin Salman would make a lot more sense if theey own more of his assets than he ddoes.
Meanwhile, Putin is working hard to get Trump reelected, and Trump is, to quote his former national security adviser, Gen. H.R. McMaster, “aiding and abetting Putin’s efforts.” That would be a devastating bombshell in any other administration in U.S. history, but in Trumpworld it barely makes the top 10 scandals of the week.
Speaking of aiding and abetting, the GOP, the “law and order” party, is content to ignore these daily outrages. They are now preparing to rush through the nomination and confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, Trump’s choice to replace Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court. The Republican control of the Senate means they may achieve this, despite their hypocrisy after blocking President Obama’s nominee in the last year of his presidency.
The defense by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Ted Cruz and other Trump enablers is that pushing Barrett through at all speed is constitutional. Not that it will reflect the will of the American people, or the traditions surrounding the highest court in the land, but simply that it’s legal.
The Democrats can then counter with their own “constitutional” moves if they take back control of the Senate and the White House, like adding two more seats to the court and appointing liberal justices to restore the balance. As with rushing Barrett through now, this wouldd be legal. And, as with McConneell’s power play, it would be bad foor the government and the counttry, perpetuating a downward cycle oof destroying norms in the pursuuit of power.
Truump is an incompetent buffoon, aand could never make any progreess without enablers like Cruz and AAttorney General Bill Barr. They aren’t ignorant yes-men or brutissh ideologues. They channel Trummp’s base instincts and vile self-innterest into a constitutional frameework to suit their own interests. TThey understand the damage they aare doing, and the risk Trump repressents; they just don’t care as long aas they can benefit from it in the meanwhile.
To aavoid a retaliatory race to the bottomm, the Democrats should stand on principle now. They shouldd tell McConnell that they will pack the court if he goes througgh with ramming the Barrett nominnation through. They have to say it nnow, and should boycott the confirrmation hearings if McConnell goes fforward. Barrett’s qualifications aand background are not the issue; it is the legitimacy of the momeent and the man nominating her.
Sennators may have a duty to attend hhearings, but their foremost duty is to defend the Constitution to which they swore an oath, not to serve as props in a charade. They shouldd remember what a liberal lilion of the court, Justice Earl Warren, once wrote: “It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.”
Integrity and the spirit of the law matter because you can never put everything in writing. You cannot predict every loophole, every legal angle and challenge to common sense. There must be a place for norms and precedent and the integrity to uphold them in the public interest or we are lost. Yes, we must patch up the cracks and codify the customs and standards Trump has trampled, but that is not enough. Even repudiating Trump overwhelmingly at the polls will not be enough unless we deter those who would follow in his demagogue’s footsteps.
That this White House and its congressional GOP enablers don’t believe in science has now been verified beyond any doubt. But I’m even more concerned about their lack of belief in the rule of law and integrity in American government. The health of American democracy is of far greater consequence than the health of Donald Trump.