2016: 95. Buying a Bride

“Mention the term ‘mail order bride,’ and you are likely to conjure up two very different, very contradictory images.  One is a sad and gritty portrait of an abused and desperate woman, probably very young, an almost certainly foreign, while the other is the rosy image of a strong and brave pioneer bride, possibly order, and quintessential American.”

Buying A Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches, Marcia A. Zug

My friend wrote an EXCELLENT book.  Full disclosure - that is written by a friend from college who is now a law professor specializing in Native American Law and Family Law.  And I am so glad she did, because I found it an absolutely fascinating look at a controversal subject, mail order brides, a topic I wouldn’t have explore on my own, but am now fascinated by.

Zug does two things in her work.  First, she provides a wonderful history of the practice of mail order brides in North America.  She discusses the earliest programs - women brought over to the Virginia Colony to help stablize the population and convince men to stay and build lives there, the very successful filles de roi program in Canada, in which the French Government successfully recruited a number of young women to come and marry Quebecois.  She covers unsuccessful attempts in Louisiana, where women we brought over without support (legally or financially - some were even kidnapped!) and how poorly the women were treated in comparison.  She talks about the women who came West after the Civil War to help populate the country (like, you know, Sarah Plain and Tall).  And finally, she examines modern mail order marriages.

Secondly, she uses this history to support her  thesis, that throughout history (even today) despite the risks, mail-order marriages are generally beneficial for the women who participate in them.  This may seem shocking from our perspective - we as a society are prone to think of mail order brides as exploited.  But Zug successfully (at least to this reader) demonstrates the ways that mail order brides have gained finacial benefits and autonomy through their decision to marry in this fashion.  And that, while it does not comport with our societal views on marriage (true love!!), that benefit continues, even in modern day mail order marriages.  

The book definitely expanded my thoughts on the issue of mail order marriage.  As Zug notes, most of us have a generally fond attitude to brave women moving out on the prairie with nothing but what they can carry and making a new life.  And most of us (myself included) consider modern mail order marriages to be sordid and explotative.  Zug expanded my horizon and got  me to consider the issue in ways I hadn’t considered.

So, in short, the history is absorbing, the thesis is provocative.  It’s an academic book in the sense that she has a thesis and is proving it in her text, but it is absolutely accessible to the casual reader.  Anyone interested in women’s history or women’s issues would enjoy this book.  

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017