Mail-order brides generally moved in a westward direction, but they did not always sojourn to the West Coast. Some moved from Illinois to Wisconsin, others from Maine to Colorado, and still others from Minnesota to South Dakota, to name a few examples.1 Other mail-order brides simply moved to a different part of their own home state.2
Meeting a spouse through the mail, however, was not a strictly domestic phenomenon. The international iteration of mail-order brides was picture brides. Picture brides were women living overseas whose introduction to their prospective husbands came through an exchange of photographs in the mail. The term originates from the Japanese phrase shahin keikon, which literally translates as “photo marriage.”3 In addition to Japan, countries such as Korea, Armenia, Greece, and Italy sent picture brides to the United States.4
Most mail-order marriages occurred between the 1880s and the 1910s, but they have been documented into the 1920s.5 The timing of picture brides from specific countries often correlates to US immigration law or domestic events. For example, in response to the Armenian Genocide, some women came to the United States as picture brides.6 The genocide ended in 1923, and newspaper articles from 1921 and 1922 demonstrate boats filled with Armenian women arriving in New York as picture brides.
1) “An Epistolary Courtship: The First Meeting of a Couple on Their Wedding Day,” Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, IL), December 18, 1886, 9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.; “Conducted Courtship by Mail: Pretty Southport, Me, Girl Weds Colorado Farmer Who Advertised for a Wife,” Boston Daily Globe (Boston, MA), January 7, 1898, 6. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.; “Sues for Clothes He Bought Wife,” University Missourian (Columbia, MO), April 30, 1916, 7. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.
2) “Mail Order Bride: Moffat County Ranchman Secures a Charming Housekeeper,” The Steamboat Pilot (Steamboat Springs, CO), March 3, 1915, 2. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
3) Yuji Ichioka, “Amerika Nadeshiko: Japanese Immigrant Women in the United States, 1900-1924.” Pacific Historical Review 49, no. 2 (1980): 342.
4) Between 1908 and 1920, approximately 10,000 Japanese women came to the United States as picture brides. Erika Lee, and Judy Yung, Angel Island: Immigrant Gateway to America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 118.
5) Mary Richard and Elkanah Walker were married in 1838. A 1927 article, of the Longmont Daily Times, reports of a young mail-order bride who left her husband after one week of matrimony. Clifford M. Drury, Nine Years with the Spokane Indians: The Diary, 1838-1848, of Elkanah Walker (Glendale: The Arthur H. Clark Company, 1976), 42.; “Girl Leaves Her Aged Mail Order Husband of Week,” Longmont Daily Times (Longmont, CO), November 15, 1927, 5. Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection.
6) Isabel Kaprielian-Churchill, “Armenian Refugee Women: The Picture Brides, 1920-1930.” Journal of American Ethnic History 12, no. 3 (1993): 3-29.