“Marriage is such an ancient institution and has in all ages excited such universal interest among the human family, that in offering to the public a journal especially devoted to the promotion of marital facility, we feel sure we are only supplying a national want.”
Leslie Fraser Duncan, Editor/Owner Matrimonial News – 1870
The matrimonial wants and needs of single men and women were specifically addressed in a unique newspaper published throughout the 1870s, 80s, & 90s called The Matrimonial News. The paper’s editorial staff “statement of purpose” was to “promote marriage and conjugal felicity.” Bachelors and spinsters who had no friends or acquaintances from among whom they could choose a life partner turned to The News to help them remedy their predicament.
The publication contained thousands of advertisements from people of both sexes and all ages and with incomes ranges from $12 a year to $500,000. The number of handsome young men without means and very fair, but penniless women, who wished to have their burden of life assumed by comfort was endless. As such The News flourished for decades.
The paper was established in England in 1870 by entrepreneur Leslie Fraser Duncan. The publication was an instant success. Advertisers throughout the country and in the United States competed for space in the unique and widely read publication.
Some community leaders blasted the paper calling it “silly” and its readers “gullible and naïve.” Sir Richard Malin, a Vice-Chancellor of England’s high court, voiced his displeasure over the paper outside of a London courthouse in May 1877. “In looking over the advertisements I found ladies representing themselves as young, attractive, and possessed of considerable property, advertising for husbands, and men, in equally good positions, advertising for wives,” he noted. “I can’t believe that such advertisements could be other than false and fraudulent in their character…such a publication was a public nuisance which deserved to be put down.”
Leslie Duncan defended his creation in the “letters to the editor” section of the paper. “Civilization combined with the cold for maladies of society and the rules of etiquette impose such restrictions on the sexes.” he wrote. “There are thousands of marriageable men and women of all ages, capable of making each other happy, who never have a chance of meeting, either in town or country; therefore, the desirability of unifying some or all using such a product through which ladies and gentlemen aspiring to marriage can be honorably brought into communication, is too obvious to need demonstration.”
In the early days of the paper’s existence, widows, clergymen, professional gentlemen, officers, officer’s daughters, and doctors made up the bulk of individuals who advertised for a spouse. As time went on miners, farmers, schoolmarms and seamstresses sponsored the majority of the ads. Many of the widows would describe themselves to readers as “moderately stout,” and the professional gentlemen characterized themselves as “well fixed in finances.”
Some people who submitted a need in the personal columns were honest and blunt. One youthful widow admitted that she was “not very pretty.” Those with very peculiar tastes in a future mate made their ideas known as well. An advertisement that appeared in a summer edition of The Matrimonial News illustrated the odd desires of a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Magdaleen. “To Ugly Gentlemen,” the ad specified, “I am of prepossessing appearance, and loving, confiding disposition, wishing for a husband described as above. Must be interesting and refined. No cold-hearted gentlemen need apply, whatever may be his position or fortune.”
Men too had very definite ideas as to what they were looking for in a wife. One businessman of Irish decent requested that no woman under the age of 25 respond to his advertisement. He described himself as an “heir of an old country family, age 22, 5 foot 5 inches, dark, very handsome eyes, a poet, highly talented passionately fond of science and the arts, and of beauty in every shape. Is looking to meet a lady of good family and is handsome….”
A year after The Matrimonial News was established in London offices were opened in San Francisco, California and Kansas City, Missouri. The weekly paper was sold as far east as Albany, New York and as far west as the Sandwich Islands. Paperboys on street corners in major western cities like Denver, Colorado and Seattle, Washington would sell copies of the paper to interested parties. “Matrimonial News! Matrimonial News!” the paper boys would call out in a loud voice. The July 5, 1889, edition of the Jewish Standard reported on one instance where a paperboy in San Francisco stopped a potential customer passing by and asked him if he wanted to buy a copy of The Matrimonial News. “Here, sir,” the paperboy said, touching the man’s arm. “This will tell you where to get a wife.” “Thank you,” the man replied, “but I already have a wife.” “Then have another, sir. Have another then,” the boy prompted cheerfully, offering up a paper.
The American version of the newspaper provided readers with instructions on how to submit an ad and the cost for the ad. “Fair and gentle reader, can we be useful to you? Are you a stranger desiring a helpmate or searching for agreeable company that may in the end ripen into closer ties? If so, send us a few lines making known your desires. Are you bashful and dread publicity? Be not afraid. You need not disclose to us your identity. Send along your correspondence accompanied by five cents for every seven words, and we will publish it under an alias and bring about correspondence in the most delicate fashion. To cultivate the noble aim of life and help men and women into a state of bliss is our aim.”
A code of rules and regulations, posted in each edition of the paper, was strictly enforced. All advertisements must give personal appearance, height, weight, financial and social position in life, and a general description of the kind of persons desire to correspond with. Gentlemen’s personals of forty words or under were published once for twenty-five cents in stamps or postage. Ladies’ personals of forty words or under were published free of charge. Any advertisement over forty words, whether for ladies or gentlemen, was charged a rate of one cent for each word. Personal advertisements were numbered to avoid the necessity for publishing names and addresses. Replies to personals were to be sent to the Matrimonial News office sealed in an envelope with the number of the ad on the outside.
Every edition of The Matrimonial News began with the same positive affirmation. “Women need a man’s strong arm to support her in life’s struggle, and men need a woman’s love.”
The following are samples of advertisements that appeared in the January 8th, 1887, edition of the Kansas City printing of The Matrimonial News.
226 – I am a jolly little girl of 17, with black hair and eyes and fair complexion, weigh 115 pounds, am fond of company and would like to form the acquaintance of a nice gentleman or two with whom I could spend an occasional evening socially, and, if mutually agreeable, become friends with proclivities tending ultimately to the great ambition of women.
219 – Is there a gentleman from 30 to 45 years of age, weighing 170 to 200 pounds, measuring 5 feet and 10 inches up, honorable, and intelligent that desires a good wife and housekeeper. Let them answer this number. I can give particulars, photo and best of references if required. Christian preferred.
220 – A good looking young lady of 19, 5 feet 3 inches high, black hair and eyes, would like to find someone to love.
297 – Maudie, 19 years of age, beautiful girl, medium height, fair, blue eyes, exquisite and well-defined features, amiable disposition, and talented, would make a loving wife, desires to correspond with a young gentlemen aged about 23 of medium height, not stout, brown hair, and moustache, must have a knowledge of foreign languages, money no object.