Matrimony, Inc.: From Personal Ads to Swiping Right, a Story of America Looking for Love

Francesca Beauman. Pegasus, $27.95 (240p) ISBN 978-1-64313-578-6
Historian Beauman (Shapely Ankle Preferr’d) analyzes American courtship rituals in this lively survey of 250 years of personal ads. Contending that these advertisements should be recognized as a crucial gauge of national modernity, Beauman examines the first known American personal ad, placed in a Boston newspaper in 1759, before focusing on the mid-19th-century “penny press”—inexpensive dailies targeted at an increasingly literate, ever-curious public. She documents the popularity of personal ads placed by Civil War soldiers, suggesting that flirtatious correspondence was a form of patriotic emotional labor as well as personal entertainment. Though some ads resulted in wedded bliss, Beauman notes, they could just as easily lead to deception, fraud, and far worse. Bigamists, con artists, and prostitutes placed and answered ads for nefarious purposes, as did Belle Gunness, the most prolific female serial killer in American history, who lured more than 40 men to their deaths on her Indiana farm. Though Beauman’s scattershot approach—she devotes just one chapter to the period between 1908 and 2020, and makes little reference to other work done on the history of courtship in America —undermines her argument about the scholarly value of personal ads, she is a companionable and witty narrator and an excellent curator of primary source material. History buffs will be entertained. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 07/29/2020
Release date: 10/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
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