In the internet age, those looking for matrimony have many venues in which to market their charms, but at the turn of the 20th century, answering a personal ad in a newspaper or magazine was the principal way to cast a wide net into the sea of eligible bachelors and spinsters.
In January 1907, 21-year-old Lillie Rasdall of Bowling Green, Kentucky replied to 28-year-old Seldon Mantz’s ad for a suitable companion to share his home in Webster, Iowa. Predictably, her letter touched on those traits that might interest her correspondent. “I am very tall weight 125 have Blue eyes fair complexion and dark hair,” she wrote. She had moved from the country to Bowling Green three years previously, but hinted that city life had not spoiled her. “I am a Kentucky girl can do [any] kind of house work.”
A few years later, 52-year-old “John” replied from his Missouri home to Lucy Boucher of Settle, Kentucky. After reading her ad, he had concluded that “you are all I should be looking for.” Like Lillie Rasdall, he inventoried the qualities he thought might interest his 50-something correspondent. A five-foot-ten-inch widower with salt-and-pepper hair, no children, a moderate lover of tobacco but not of strong drink, he described his pleasant home, which needed only “a good loving wife” to complete it. He did “not want a cent of the money my future wife shall have” but at the same time seemed interested in an honest accounting of what he would forgo: “I do not want one that will misrepresent anything.”
In each case, the letter-writers then broached the next step in the encounter: the exchange of photographs. You go first, they both seemed to say, then I will send you mine. Perhaps there was follow-up, but these exchanges did not succeed in lighting the flame of matrimony. Lillie, sadly, died the following year, Seldon was still a bachelor at 61, and Lucy remained single all her life.
These letters are part of the Manuscripts & Folklife Archives collections of WKU’s Department of Library Special Collections. Click on the links to access finding aids. For more courtship letters from generations of Kentuckians, search TopSCHOLAR and KenCat.