In the early 1900s, meeting someone through a newspaper personal ad enjoyed a brief period of semi-respectability—especially in the West, where your burgeoning little town may not have even had any eligible people of the opposite sex. Rural life was hard, almost untenable without a helpmate.
The ads, accordingly, were short and direct. Love was never mentioned. “Suitability” was the characteristic that mattered. Yet among these stark requests for partnership, strange variants could occur. Here are some versions of them.
Missed Connections and Fantastic Haircuts
Here we see two examples of the sweetest of meet-cutes, the lost opportunity on the streetcar. Except one is actually shilling for a barber, and quite clumsily at that. Try and guess which!
1. “Gentleman would like to correspond with young lady, dressed in light, wearing large black hat, who was on Broadway car last Sunday evening, sitting next to lady chewing gum. “
2. “Young lady, stranger in the city, would like to meet gentleman that was on the 6:30 Akeny car last evening. The one who said he had just got his hair cut for 25 cents and his shoes shined free at the Model Barber Shots. He said it is the place that employs only the best of barbers.”
First, clean my house and file my papers. Do a good job and you’re hir…my everlasting true love.
3. “Gentleman, in office, seeks lady assistant; matrimony if suited.”
4. “HOUSEKEEPER: 18 to 30 years of age, wanted by widower,40. Have prominent position with the rail company, have 75 acre ranch also house in town; object matrimony if suited; have boy 13 years old, would not object to housekeeper having child. Can give best references.”
Points for Honesty?
Most writers of personals made themselves sound like wealthy young sophisticates who were taking time off from their European luxury cruise to jot down the ad. But occasionally there was a person wasn’t shy about who he was and what he wanted. On average, what he wanted was a young stout lass who works like a mule on the ranch she also owns. Here’s hoping they had good luck with that.
5. “Middle aged mechanic desires acquaintance of respectable domestic; blonde, stout, age about 25 preferred. Object: matrimony.”
6. “I want a good wife of matured age. I have a nice home and some income property, but am some involved. Would secure a wife that could help me out; then we would have income enough to live on without work.”
7. “Gentleman from East wishes to meet widow owning ranch; no objection to a small child or two, object marriage.”
8. “Wanted: wife. Farmer’s daughter preferred, willing to marry poor man. Must be good girl, good-looking, weight 100 or under, no grafters.”
Just Get Me Out of Here
These ads beg to tell tales of scandal and loss that we will never know.
9. “A widow, 36, would like to correspond with gentleman either from Alaska or the East. Have some property, excellent housekeeper and cook; willing to go anywhere, all letters containing self-addressed envelopes answered. No triflers.”
10. “Young woman, reared in luxury, having lost everything and earned her living for the past eight years, is tired of teaching and wishes a home: would like to meet a well-to-do businessman who would appreciate refinement and affection in a wife. Object: matrimony.”
True Love, On Sale Now
In these ads, the men specifically want to do business with a lady. They apparently thought them easier marks; more likely to hand over money to a “gentleman” who could fling a little woo. Sure I love you, my sweet. Just make that check out to “cash.”
11. “Young New York Gentleman in publishing business wants to meet a young lady , 18 to 24 years old, with $500. $50 weekly assured. Must be refined; object matrimony.”
12. “Gentleman, 40, would correspond with lady of some means; business proposition and results; have had experience; no triflers.”
13. “Businessman and gentleman, 40, good appearance and habits, stranger in the city, wishes the acquaintance of lady with a small amount of money, to take interest in paying business; strictly confidential. “
Nothing Suspicious Here
Of course men could be easy marks too, if you knew what to offer. Who could have imagined how many beautiful, submissive women were out there, begging rugged Oregonian men to take their money and give their life meaning? And that the best way to do that would be through a 7 cent personal ad?
14. “Attractive, refined lady, independently wealthy; cash and property; generous, with sweet disposition, seeks husband and advisor.”
15. “Young widow, age 28 with $10,000: lady, 20, with $50,000; lady, 25, $15,00, blonde, 18, cash and beautiful farm. I seek honorable husbands for all these. Contact Mrs. W, Chicago.”
Won’t Get Burned Again
And my very favorite, the gentleman who will have no truck with waitresses or shooting gallery clerks. It sounds like he’s speaking from the side of experience. Painful, painful experience.
16. “Gentleman of 30 would like to meet or correspond with a widow or maid; strictly confidential, no triflers, no waitresses, shooting gallery clerks, or lady barbers will be considered. Object: matrimony.”
* Personal Ads are from The Oregonian newspaper, from between 1901 and 1909.