MATRIMONY, INC.: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love (Pegasus Books; October 6, 2020; Hardcover; ISBN: 978-1643135786; 240 pgs; $27.95)
A clever, thoughtful, and funny history that reveals how the Union of states was built on a much more personal union of people.
Have you ever used a dating app or website? Then you have more in common than you know with lonely homesteaders in 18th century New England. At once heartwarming and heartbreaking, Matrimony, Inc. reveals the unifying thread that weaves its way through not just marriage and relationships over the centuries, but American social history itself: advertising for love.
Amazingly, America’s first personal ad appeared in the Boston Evening Post as early as 1759. A “person who flatters himself that he shall not be thought disagreeable” was in search of a “young lady, between the age of eighteen and twenty-three, of a middling stature, brown hair, of good Morals…” As family-arranged marriages fell out of fashion, “Husband Wanted” or “Seeking Wife” ads were soon to be found in every state in the nation.
From the woman in a Wisconsin newspaper who wanted “no brainless dandy or foppish fool” to the man with a glass eye who placed an ad in the New York Times hoping to meet a woman with a glass eye, the many hundreds of personal ads that author Francesca Beauman has uncovered offer an extraordinary glimpse into the history of our hearts’ desires, as well as a unique insight into American life as the frontier was settled and the cities grew. Personal ads played a surprisingly vital role in the West: couple by couple, shy smile by shy smile, letter by letter from a dusty, exhausted miner in California to a bored, frustrated seamstress in Ohio. Get ready for a new perspective on the making of modern America, a hundred words of typesetter’s blurry black ink at a time.
“So anxious are our settlers for wives that they never ask a single lady her age. All they require is teeth,” declared the Dubuque Iowa News in 1838 in a state where men outnumbered women three to one. While the dating pools of 21st century New York, Chicago or San Francisco might not be quite so dentally-fixated, Matrimony Inc. will put idly swiping right on Tinder into fascinating and vividly fresh historical context. What do women look for in a man? What do men look for in a woman? And how has this changed over the past 250 years?
Praise for MATRIMONY, INC.
“Francesca’s book gives us a window into the history of the U.S. and the politics of how marriage shaped this country. Fascinating, just like Francesca.”
—Joey Soloway, creator of Transparent
“Francesca Beauman’s deep historical dive into a person’s most naked ask into the universe is hilarious and shocking and heartbreaking, and reveals through these incredible finds how the needs and expectations of what we look for in a mate have evolved, and what has stubbornly remained the same. You won’t be able to hear the phrase “swipe right” quite the same way again.”
—Kathryn Hahn, actress and comedian
“Beauman has uncovered a treasure trove of fascinating detail. Matrimony Inc is the ultimate proof that we humans are fools for love. But also desperate, courageous, and occasionally lucky.”
—Dr. Amanda Foreman, historian and international-bestselling author of Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire
“Funny, outrageous, revealing, and heartbreaking, the personal ads in Beauman’s remarkable research illuminate the American experience brilliantly across hundreds of years and into the present. And her engaging voice makes it impossible to put Matrimony, Inc. down.”
—Francesca Delbanco, creator of Netflix’s Friends From College
“Francesca Beauman writes with elegance, wit and profound intelligence. . . . A joyous and clever read.”
—Elizabeth Day, novelist and podcast host of How to Fail
“A fascinating, hilarious, and occasionally heartbreaking work of history, Francesca Beauman’s MATRIMONY, INC. takes a cultural artifact that seems so perishable — the personal ad — and rescues it from the scrap heap, drawing together a huge trove of these lonely-heart epistles to tell a larger story about social life in America . . . With wry wit and a trained eye for the absurd, Beauman is a companionable guide through two hundred and fifty years of single people boldly, hopefully, pathetically, comically seeking mates.”
—Patrick Radden Keefe, staff writer at The New Yorker and author of Say Nothing
About Francesca Beauman
After a decade as a T.V. host, Francesca Beauman is now a writer, historian and part-time bookseller at London’s most beautiful bookstore, Persephone Books. Francesca is the author of six books, including a history of the pineapple and a history of British personal ads. She also runs the popular book forum “Fran’s Book Shop” (@fransbookshop).