Throughout history, society has portrayed marriage as a commodity. You can see this especially in the martial laws in Western societies as women gained rights. It’s not easy being a paternal or male figure’s bargaining chip. Think about the number of Regency romances where the woman moves from family home to a husband’s home with little control. Women were forced to marry smart. Men that couldn’t provide a good income never offered any mild sort of freedom.
But it’s not just English romances that showcase the hardships and realities of mail order brides. In Dear Mr. Weaver, Kit Morgan allows Ebba and Daniel to find a beautiful balance. Her terrible allergies not withstanding. An apple orchard would be hell on most women. Possibly more.
You can buy the book at Amazon. The price is still free as of this posting.
Find the Deconstructing Damsels episode on the Pinecast site, Stitcher, iTunes and Google. For more information on how to make Ebba’s fläskpannkaka, follow this great video on YouTube. (Found by creature_sh for your viewing pleasure.) And read below for more information on how mail order brides have evolved in American society.
PBS Investigates’s piece on mail order brides has a few interesting facts. While the term is relatively modern, the actions are not. The photographs investigated originate around the 1890s when the World’s Fair was in Chicago. Mentioning Chicago here because that was one of Ebba’s stops on her journey out west. While the years are roughly 20 year apart, the economical sense is still there as women have little rights within the United States. Professor Perry Juis said this about the photographs:
For women it was important because, uh, the opportunities for, um [swallows], living on their own were limited. […] Men it was kind of a social necessity. And, uh, people were not only expected to wed but also to stay wed. [T]he divorce rate was very low, one in 2000 is perhaps an eighth of today’s rate, and so, uh… it-it was very important for women and men to, eh, be together.
Does this mean that Ebba’s journey was a reality for many women? If the Columbian Agency is anything to go by, then yes! The books ends about 20 years after the initial meeting of 1876. Meaning that Pettigrew’s flourishing business makes sense. Marriage brokers were a big deal for women looking to find some stable money and a husband that wasn’t entirely shady.
Unfortunately, the brokers may not have used Pinkertons or other similar agencies to find out the true mettle. Leaving women in some pretty precarious situations. Considering that legal statues were not put into place until 1986 with the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments, which was a chain of legal protections against dishonorable men and Filipino brokered brides. The laws curbed women immigrating without a in-depth review process, a fact all immigrating fiancees must currently face, but it didn’t fix the problem of abusive men.
According to The University of Nebraska’s Encyclopedia of the Great Plains, mail order brides were pretty diverse. The biggest stretch of white women marrying happened after the Civil War. Dead husbands generally don’t keep supplying a family, so women often left the East to find a better life out West. Women and men put out ads in papers or used a marriage broker to find a spouse. Since the Pony Express could take a month to bring back letters, there was a lot of downtime between correspondence. Matches up with Morgan’s assumption. And like Daniel, many men used their siblings or intermediaries to correspond. Unlike Daniel, it was primarily due to illiteracy.
Men ran the risk of a bride bolting or using the train ticket money to life off while ignoring his correspondence. However, women ran the risk of death due to the lack of temperament testing due by facilitators looking to gain that fee.
And like modern trafficking means, there was always the chance for exploitation. The power never ran in the favor of women.
The railroad also played an important role in the western diaspora of single women. In 1882 businessman Fred Harvey sought young rural women “of good character, attractive and intelligent” as waitresses in whistlestop cafés along the Santa Fe rail line. Harvey required that they remain single for a year, live in chaperoned dormitories, and entertain callers in “courting parlors.” By the turn of the century, he had married off nearly 5,000 so called Harvey Girls.
Imagine being forced into a contract to stay single before being able to marry someone who’ve met through work when the man could move along to the next available woman and snatch away any security you’ve put time in courting. Building a solid relationship.
The focus on white women in this post because the protagonist is white. However, Chinese and Japanese women used brokers in order to arrange marriages. Meanwhile many First Nations and Native American communities used a similar brokerage for their marriage-aged children. The Wild West was thought to be untamed and rugged–no place for a proper young lady. But women moved the Westward expansion ever forward by being tough when life turned hard.
Unfortunately, women’s experiences are often focused on simply being white and discounts all the work put in by minority women as more white European women are bustled to the West. Either by broker or family acquaintance.
Filipino sailors were found in the Louisiana territory in the late 1700s, so they’re not a new immigration wave. Some families have been here longer than many European ones. That is an untold part of brides seeking security…and hopefully love..in a society with too few men when women received little protection. Remember: marital rape didn’t become illegal until 1993. Almost 70 years after white women received the right to vote.
And yet Ebba’s survival isn’t surprising at all. Children of immigrants often walk in two worlds: family and social. Her ability to remain steadfast and not lose sight of a freedom from little paying servitude in the hospitality industry to at least a home and possibly love is inspiring.
No. It wasn’t love found along the edge of a ballroom, but perseverance has its own kind of appeal. Something mail order brides frequently faced, like her sister-in-law Bella. Bella was in charge of her own children and husband, as well as her many siblings. Ebba and Bella were both faced with the position of doing for themselves in order to survive and maintain pride.
What would happen if we focused on the unheard of experiences– of people of color facing similar trials while also surviving in a nation built to exclude?
Shows like 90 Day Fiance foster the idea of ‘greedy women’ from other countries but ultimately the modern US was built on the same dreams. A mail order bride isn’t something to discounted since we’ve been looking at servitude for a millennia. The women are simply taking the choose into their own hands. And bonus: they can see each other without waiting months between letters. Score one for the modern brides. Ebba and Bella are not very different in choosing partners with security and equity within a higher social class.
Great Plains and beyond didn’t create easy movements. Similar trope books focus on a Bad Girls idea (women who don’t worry about social demands) but often fall short to focus on the assumed Christianity of the brides. A point that discounts a lot of the minority brides who were searching for a stable and respected marriage.
As men and women have moved away from the East to West national search, the current immigration system is one determined by a racial relevance to goodness. In a scholarly article by Nora Firstenberg on the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act, brides are often determined by their good moral character.
Moral worthiness is a theme that runs constant in the regulation of immigration and citizenship. Moral arguments used by anti-Chinese groups in the 1800s led to the first exclusionary laws, and moral arguments still determine who can enter the country, as evidenced by the frameworks of “moral turpitude,” “good faith marriages,” and “good moral character.”‘
Women in these situations are often rated simply on race and nationality for worthiness. That means comments by Chantal’s family on 90 Day Fiance about their son-in-laws greed coming from the Dominican Republican showcase very definite bias that dates back to the 1800s. The same comments women like Annie (Thai) faced by her new stepdaughter. The danger to women is not just found in the social distrust by lack of family support within their newly adopted family as they attempt to adopt and readily understand American culture as immigrants.
That doesn’t even begin to cover the current climate of immigration and the lack of empathy within American society based on the refugee crisis. (Hint: it’s not safe for women when children are ripped away.) However, these are not prospective brides who have been gone through a gauntlet of interviews to move into the US and be with their spouse. These are women looking for safety after loved ones were gunned down after American intervention for the past several decades.
Most romance books about mail order brides for white women. If you would like stories on African-American women’s experiences as brides by letters, check out Beverly Jenkins. Jenkins has a long history of showing the untold stories of women and how they can find love as independent, sensible women.
- Tempest features Regan Carmichael, a woman who is not afraid to defend herself or those in need around her while not being docile and quite. Quiet women didn’t easily survive the harsh realities of an expanding nation. This installment shows what happens when expectations aren’t traditionally met but still center around a happily ever after–met by growing as a couple and forming a blended family.
Pet Cinematary is a podcast revolving around animals in films. How can you not like that?? It’s practically perfect in every way (yes, the umbrella counts since it’s a parrot head). Films range from the doofy K9 to old Hollwood movies like Cat People. There’s a little bit for everyone.
It’s hosted by Wendy Mays with guests every week to talk about their film of choice. Don’t forget to submit a shelter or rescue to feature. A little publicity can go a long way on stretched budgets.
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Cover belongs to Kit Morgan and was found at GoodReads.