Arizona’s Mail Order Brides

Mail Order Brides Wedding

Many know the stories of how young, white woman from the East Coast traveled West to marry men who paid their train tickets—looking for a new life and hopefully, a good man. What’s little known is that in Arizona, this is how many young black women came to the territory. Arizona mining camps were filled with young black men and older black widowers—but they weren’t the one who came up with the mail order bride idea. That came from the married African-American women already in the territory. They found the presence of so many unattached men in their community “unsettling,” according to Black Women of the Old West by William Loren Katz. “With too few women to go around, the wrong kind of women came to town, and fights among the men were frequent. The answer, they convinced unmarried men, including many widowers, was an arranged marriage to a mail order bride,” he writes. They advertised in newspapers and Eastern churches and many young ladies responded. “Filled with hope, young candidates set out from Boston, Philadelphia, and New York. Many left lives of poverty, family problems or personal tragedies. Each sought her American dream, a new beginning. They hoped to find the thrill of love, the warmth of family, and a new life.”

But how to divvy up the women—since it apparently didn’t dawn on anyone that the ladies might want to make their own choices! The miners met before the trains even left the Eastern stations and decided the picking would be done by senority! The oldest men would pick first. Guess which ones they usually picked—the youngest women, who often found themselves with a widower and a house full of children. “Wedding day photographs of mail order brides show attractive young African-American women,” Katz writes. “Some photos captured a bride’s nervous smile or sad, worried eyes.”

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