Matrimony, Inc.: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love

Pegasus. Oct. 2020. 208p. ISBN 9781643135786. $27.95. SOC SCI
Historian Beauman explores the evolving nature of matrimony in the United States through the lens of personal ads, which blossomed in the 1800s. Homesteading policies encouraged marriage and incentives by Western states, including female suffrage, were meant to address the dearth of females on the frontier. Newly arrived immigrants lacked the kind of community ties that facilitate the meeting of a life partner and industrialization, characterized by long shifts in factories, also meant that workers had little time for courting. Personal ads in newspapers were seen as an expeditious way to find a mate. Whereas early ads emphasized a desire for financial solvency, at the end of the century, when more women were placing ads due to a gender imbalance following the Civil War, the focus was on sobriety. Beauman notes that post-Enlightment virtues, as well as an emphasis on romantic love in literature, made Americans choosier. Immigrants in particular were looking to shed the yoke of Old World traditions by rejecting arranged marriage and seeking a more “American” approach. However, the anonymity of the ads made scam, fraud, and murder increasingly viable.
VERDICT An amusing history that charts the progression of the personals, and which makes “swiping right” seem less newfangled than it is.

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