A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009

Wedding Belles & Beaux

Sixty Years of Wedding Costumes & Customs, 1869-1929

Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)

Starting a New Life

IT WAS NOT unusual for new brides to find themselves in unfamiliar surroundings soon after their marriage. Whether they were new immigrants, widowed brides or child brides, the challenges were almost endless.


In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, there was a discrepancy in how men and women were spread about America; many single women lived in eastern cities while thousands of single men lived in western mining and ranching communities. The problem was getting the two groups together. To help in this endeavor, The Matrimonial News, a matchmaking newspaper, promoted "honorable matrimonial engagements and true conjugal felicities" for those willing to pay the price (starting out at $1.50 per word). In their ads, prospective spouses could be as specific or as general as they liked:

  • Young lady of good family and education, considered handsome, would like to correspond with some gentleman of means, one who would be willing to take her without a dollar, as she has nothing to offer but herself.

  • A bachelor of 40, good appearance and substantial means, wants a wife. She must be under 30, amiable and musical.

  • I am 33 years of age, and as regards looks can average with most men. I am looking for a lady to make her my wife, as I am heartily tired of bachelor life. I desire a lady not over 28 or 30 years of age, not ugly, well educated and musical. She must have at least $20,000.

Although some people found mates through such services, they often proved to be scams set up to separate lonely people from their hard-earned money. In 1919, The New York Times reported that The Matrimonial News was a fraud in which women were requested to pay "$10 as a fee and $1 monthly for life, or until she found a husband."


At least one Wyoming bride found a husband through a matrimonial newspaper. In 1914, Elinor Pruitt Stewart wrote of a couple she encountered in southwest Wyoming:

In a wobbly old buckboard sat a young couple completely engrossed by each other. That he was a Westerner we knew by his cowboy hat and boots; that she was an Easterner, by her not knowing how to dress for the ride across the desert. It came out that our young couple were bride and groom. They had never seen each other until the night before, having met through a matrimonial paper. They were married that morning and the young husband was taking her away to Pinedale to his ranch.

As important as it is to us, many 19th century couples married for reasons other than love. Social status, political connections, money or security were some of the reasons people married. Thousands of young women came to the United States to marry “contract husbands” who had previously emigrated from “The Old Country.” Like the woman on her way to Pinedale, they didn’t meet their future mates until the wedding day.

Most brides went into marriage hoping that love would “come later.” Elinor Stewart was a widow who came West seeking a better life for herself and her young daughter. She moved to Burnt Fork, Wyoming, in 1909 to take a job as housekeeper to a Scottish farmer whom she later married. They had only known each other a short time, but “the trend of events and ranch work,” she said, “seemed to require that we be married first and do our ‘sparking’ afterward. Although I married in haste, I have no cause to repent.”


The hardships of childbirth claimed many a young bride in 19th Century America, leaving men with children to raise on their own. Oftentimes, second wives were sought simply as caregivers to children; if love was involved, it was a bonus. John B. Kendrick’s mother, Irish-born Anna Maye (possibly Mayo), was a second wife who, in addition to bearing two children of her own, took over care for the five children of her husband’s first marriage.

One of those five children, Samuel Smith Kendrick (John Kendrick's half-brother), found himself in a situation similar to his father’s. His first wife, Missouri Florence, had died in 1882, leaving him with three children under the age of seven. To provide companionship for himself and childcare for his offspring, he married 24-year-old childless widow Celia Matilda Jackson Dooley in 1883. Celia not only raised Samuel’s three children, but bore nine more of her own between 1883 and 1900.

Samuel Smith & Cecilia Dooley Kendrick, 1883 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)

Trail End


 State Historic Site