The men living in mining towns often longed for female companionship.
Some preferred seeking a wife to buying a temporary connection with
a prostitute. Thus, the need for women opened up another new business
enterprise-- mail order brides.
The picture of the man stuffing women into a box is an illustration
for an article in a French magazine, La Charivari (Honeyman Collection,
Bancroft Library). The original article described the shortage of women
in California. The illustration satirizes the mail order bride system,
which resulted from this shortage. Some men desired the stability in
their lives that marriage could bring. The Alta California periodical
commented upon the positive influence of women in bringing order to
chaotic new towns: "Woman to society is like a cement to the building
stone. The society here has no such a cement; its elements float to
and fro upon the excited, turbulent, hurried life of California immigrants,
or rather, we should say, goldhunters" (quoted in Levy 174).
While men wanted women for stability, many of the women wanted men for
gold. John McCracken wrote to his sister telling of one such incident.
"I heard not long since of the arrival of an old Lady and her five daughters.
They came in a wagon and seemed quite happy to think there were such
chances to get well married" (Levy 175). A very interesting advertisement
from a Maryville newspaper of 1849 describes one woman's self-qualifications
for marriage and what she expects in return from the man: "an old man
need not apply, nor any who have not a little more education than she
has, and a great deal more gold, for there must be $20,000 settled on
her before she will bind herself to perform all the above" (Levy 176).
The lenient laws allowed for quick marriages and quicker divorces. According
to the 1850 census, there were twice as many men as there were women
in California. This ratio supported the business of the mail order bride.
The thought that a human female could be bought out of a magazine, just
as one would buy a dress or a coat, baffles the mind today. But there
was a need for women and wealth was plentiful, so the system satisfied
the basic economic condition of supply and demand.
The supply source for many of the brides came from overseas; this supply
line was already in place to provide women to service brothels. Therefore,
it didn't take long for smart businessmen to create a new product line:
the bride. And, as the cartoon illustration suggests, there were plenty
of women in countries such as France willing to seek their fortunes
by being "shipped" to California.