Commenting on one of Iowa's burning issues in 1838, a local newspaper reported, "So anxious are our settlers for brides that they never ask a single lady for her age. Only requirement was they have teeth." And Iowa was not alone with the problem. Even as late as 1865 the ratio of men to women was 3 to 1 in California, 8 to 1 in Nevada, and 20 to 1 in Colorado. Once they had staked their claims or established their homesteads, all those bachelor frontiersmen who had headed west on their own were more than ready for a little female companionship, or more importantly, wives.
Many means were devised for filling the need, but the most efficient solution was the "mail order brides." Some men advertised for a wife in the personals columns of what were called "hear-and-hand newspapers, and proposed after a brief courtship by correspondence. "I love to think of thee and think that thare is a day a coming when wee will be hapy together," wrote one young man in 1853, who then added, "I live a lonsom and desolate life."
Where whole groups of men wanted brides, a "jobber' might be hired to send a "bulk shipment" of suitable feminine candidates from back East or from overseas. Romance was hardly considered in these transactions. The woman who answered an ad for such a roundup had usually resigned herself to spinsterhood if she remained at home. She went off knowing full well that she would have to settle for whatever was offered, including the possibility of a man with "vile wilderness habits" who might also be twice her age, and living conditions of extreme hardship.
Judging from one contemporary description of a meeting that took place in Dubuque, Iowa, in 1844, the matchups that resulted from these bulk shipments could be haphazard to say the least.
Reporting on the arrival of a contingent of 41 single women aboard a Mississippi River steamboat, the writer recounted the usual way in which "paying addresses" and getting "hitched" took place. Even before the women had the chance to disembark, it seemed, gentlemen on shore had begun calling out through speaking trumpets: "Miss with blue ribbon on your bonnet, will you take me?" or "Hallow thar, gal with a cinnamon-colored shawl! if agreeable we will jine."
- Discovering America