Mail-order brides

Mail-order brides are women who marry their partners after having responded to advertisements for wives or having been selected from their own personals that were posted in newspapers, catalogs, Internet sites, or through marriage broker services. This practice has been used as a legal method of migrating to the United States since the early colonial era.

In the history of the United States, men traditionally immigrated to the new colonies and across the frontiers in far greater numbers than did women. As they settled and began building communities, they wanted marital partners. Single men, who often could not find spouses, needed alternative methods of introduction to women. Finding women who were willing to migrate to remote areas and become spouses to men they hardly knew required effort. Sometimes, men hoped to find a wife through the creation of advertisements or by responding to them. Long-distance location of spouses through advertisements continues to be practiced in America in the early twenty-first century.Intermarriage;mail-order brides[mail order brides]Mail-order brides[Mail order brides]Intermarriage;mail-order brides[mail order brides][cat]WOMEN;Mail-order brides[03360][cat]FAMILY ISSUES;Mail-order brides[03360][cat]PUSH-PULL FACTORS;Mail-order brides[03360]

Early American History

During the American colonial era, in locations where the population of women was low, some colonies brought in women who were eager for a new start in the New World. An early known incidence of this was in 1619, when the Virginia Company of LondonVirginia Company of London sent its first ship that carried “mail-order brides” to colonists. Interested men reimbursed the company by paying 120 pounds of tobacco for the women’s transportation. During the early eighteenth century, France began shipping women to New Orleans. Later, during the western frontier and California gold rush days, bachelors from the West sought women from the eastern states and other countries to join them. Some men contacted friends and church groups, while others advertised in newspapers.

During the nineteenth century, mail-order catalogs advertising prospective brides as well as marriage brokerage services emerged. Like seeds and clothing, women could be ordered through catalogs; hence, they were dubbed “mail-order brides.” While some men who lived in remote areas used these services because of a continued lack of women in the vicinity, others chose mail-order services as a convenient method of selecting particular characteristics in their spouses. At the turn of the twentieth century, for example, Japanese and other Asian immigrants often resorted to selecting mates from pictures; those Photography;and “picture brides”[picture brides]“Picture brides”[picture brides];JapaneseJapanese immigrants;”picture brides”[picture brides]chosen “picture brides” then migrated to the United States. These men hoped to marry women from similar cultural backgrounds.

Late Twentieth Century Developments

By the 1970’s, career options were moving more and more American women away from the traditional role of the stay-at-home wife. Many Western men adapted to and supported these changes, while others met traditional wives, but other men chose to seek an alternative option through the use of mail-order bride services. These men were in search of a spouse from a traditional or non-Western background. They purchased advertisement literature that described eligible women, selected their choice from among those depicted, and worked toward obtaining their brides. Most of the bridal candidates who advertised were underprivileged women from developing countries. Poverty and other woes enticed them to seek their fortunes in an entirely new culture.

Throughout the 1980’s, the majority of the women who sought fiancé visas, ninety-day entry permits for marriage purposes, were Southeast Asians, particularly women in the Mail-order brides[mail order brides];FilipinoFilipino immigrants;mail-order brides[mail order brides]Philippines. During the 1990’s, deteriorating economic conditions in Russia and Ukraine dramatically increased the interest of Russian immigrants;mail-order brides[mail order brides]Russian and Ukrainian immigrants;mail-order brides[mail order brides]Urkainian women in becoming mail-order brides. They hoped to enrich their lives, escape socioeconomic depression, and make new starts. By that time, mail-order bride services had replaced most of the print catalogs with similar advertisements that were available via the Internet on the World Wide Web;and mail-order brides[mail order brides]World Wide Web. With this new technology, couples could much more readily exchange pictures and correspondence than in the past.

The mail-order bride practice has a long tradition in the United States. The practice has supporters who believe it is an acceptable custom and opponents who consider the process to be unethical trafficking of women. A high percentage of mail-order brides remain married to their original domestic partners, but some have been trapped in abusive relationships. In an effort to reduce potential problems, President Bush, George W.George W. Bush signed the [a]International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2006International Marriage Broker Regulation Act in 2006. This law required that candidates for mail-order brides be at least eighteen years old, be given criminal and marital background check information on the men with whom they wished to correspond, and be provided with legal rights and contact information regarding domestic violence. Mail-order brides make up only a small percentage of the total number of immigrants to the United States, but they remain an important part of the country’s history.Intermarriage;mail-order brides[mail order brides]

Further Reading

  • Belleau, Marie-Claire. “Mail-Order Brides in a Global World.” Albany Law Review 67, no. 2 (Winter, 2003): 595-608. Discusses the laws in the United States and Canada and makes recommendations for changes.
  • Constable, Nicole. Romance on a Global Stage: Pen Pals, Virtual Ethnography, and “Mail Order” Marriages. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. An anthropologist reviews the myths, fairy tales, political economy, and history of mail-order brides.
  • Enss, Chris. Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier. Guilford, Conn.: TwoDot, 2005. Relates true accounts of mail-order brides during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
  • Lindee, Kirsten M. “Love, Honor, or Control: Domestic Violence, Trafficking, and the Question of How to Regulate the Mail-Order Bride Industry.” Columbia Journal of Gender and Law 16, no. 2 (Summer, 2007): 551-602. Discusses international marriage brokerage rationale for regulation and the International Marriage Broker Regulation Act of 2006.
  • So, Christine. “Asian Mail-Order Brides, the Threat of Global Capitalism, and the Rescue of the U.S. Nation-State.” Feminist Studies 32, no. 2 (Summer, 2006): 395-419. Cites several mail-order bride publications and concludes that Asian mail-order brides are perceived as tools for obtaining traditional families.

Chinese immigrants


Fiancées Act of 1946

Filipino immigrants

Japanese immigrants


“Marriages of convenience”

Picture brides

Russian and Soviet immigrants

War brides

Women immigrants