Episode 120: Marcia Zug, A History of Mail Order Brides in Early America

How do you build colonies without women?

Most of the colonial adventurers from England and France who set out for Jamestown, New France, and colonial Louisiana were men. But how do you build and sustain societies and spread European culture—in essence, fulfill the promises of a colonial program—without women?

You can’t. Which is why Marcia Zug, a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina Law School and author of Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail Order Matches, joins us to explore one of the solutions that England and France used to build their North American colonies: mail order bride programs.

About the Show

Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.

It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.

Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.

Episode Summary

In this episode, Marcia Zug, a Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina Law School and author of Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail Order Matches, leads us on an exploration of early North American mail order marriage programs.

During our exploration, Marcia reveals information about colonial Jamestown, New France, and Louisiana and their mail order marriage programs; Details about why women were interested in participating in mail order marriage programs; And, the role mail order marriage played in American westward expansion during the 19th century.

What You’ll Discover

  • Historic situations that have led to mail order marriage
  • Why colonists deemed some women as unmarriageable
  • Colonial Jamestown and the development of its mail order marriage program
  • How colonial promoters and colonists encouraged women to migrate to Jamestown
  • Whether the Virginia Company allowed its “tobacco wives” to choose their husbands
  • Marriage in the 17th century
  • Whether Jamestown mail order brides improved their economic status
  • New France and why it developed a mail order marriage program
  • The founding mothers of New France
  • Treatment of women in New France
  • The mail order marriage program in colonial Louisiana
  • First North American marital advertisements
  • How eastern women made their way to California
  • How men and women advertised for mail order spouses in early America
  • Downsides for participants in early American mail order marriage programs


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Time Warp PlainTime Warp Question

In your opinion, what might have happened if mail-order marriage programs had not developed in North America? How would the settlement and European colonization of North America have been different?

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