Hearts West is a fascinating book recounting the courage (or, in some cases, desperation) of hundreds of single young women at the end of the 19th century in search of husbands. The idea may sound ludicrous, even humorous, to we moderns, but the book makes a very clear case for the necessity of such a phenomenon. Thousands of men had gone west to either dig for gold or buy up land. Thousands of others had been killed in the Civil War, making marriagable males as scarce as hen's teeth. Without time or money to travel back and forth for courting, many men and women began corresponding (via a paper called The Matrimonial News) and eventually became engaged through the mail. When they finally met, a few were disappointed with their correspondents, but most found happiness. Hearts West gives snippets of their histories which only whet my appetite for more.
Fortunately, I already had a book written by one of the brides mentioned in Hearts West. Elinore Pruitt Stewart was a widow with a little girl who answered an ad for a housekeeper in Wyoming. Although she did not go West searching for romance, she and her employer fell in love and married. Her book, Letters of a Woman Homesteader, is a collection of anecdotes she sent to a friend describing her new life. Her sense of humor and “joie de vivre” get her through many a trial and make her an endearing heroine.
Dear Mrs. Coney, I have often wished I might tell you all about my Clyde, but have not because of two things. One is I could not even begin without telling you what a good man he is, and I didn’t want you to think I could do nothing but brag. The other reason is the haste I married in…. But although I married in haste, I have no cause to repent. That is very fortunate because I have never had one bit of leisure to repent in. So I’m lucky all around.