The New York World/December 4, 1887
Nellie Bly’s Strange Experience at a Noted Matrimonial Agency
Some of the Men Were Bashful, Some Were Bold, Some Poor and Some Rich, But All Were “the Favorites of Their Circle”—Queer Letters—Husbands That Cost $100—Quick Proposals—Meeting One’s Fate.
The New York woman can hardly have a single desire that cannot be gratified through some bureau or agency of this town. Through them she can get a house, have it furnished, secure new wardrobe, a good form, a clear complexion, the latest shade of hair, and a loan to start the wheels of the concern in good running order. If she desires a husband, and a family warranted to have a marked resemblance, they can be had through the same channels at a nominal price. This husband-getting interested me. I did not want to marry but I was as curious as a little boy with a dynamite cartridge. I wanted to investigate. But how? A woman always hesitates about telling that she wants to marry. She would not confess to the lack of opportunity under any circumstances.
I saved the address of a Matrimonial Bureau which does business now in East Thirty-first street, and late one evening I called. I was ushered into a parlor and was soon talking to a man and woman who professed to introduce congenial spirits. He was a small, nervous man, with light brown hair and blue eyes. His wife was a black-eyed, black-haired, pleasant-looking little woman, with persuasive conversational abilities that her husband fully recognized. I told them I had heard of the agency and was anxious to partake of the bliss of making fires and sewing on buttons. I wanted to try through them to give some lonely man a chance to find his ideal. Knowing absolutely nothing of the running of the concern, I made inquiries very carefully.
“You find plenty of people anxious to marry, I suppose?”
“Oh, yes. We have between five and seven thousand names on our books of matrimonial candidates.”
“Not all in New York?”
“The majority live here, although our list covers the greater part of the United States. Who are the people? Well, we have one minister, several doctors and medical students, and all classes of business men down to the laborer. We have not the same variety among the women. They are mostly those who need a home or who are many days past a desirable marrying age. I should think that you would have plenty of proposals and would not need our assistance,” he concluded, flatteringly.
“One tires of meeting friends always in the way indorsed by society,” I answered, “and it seems possible that, by stepping aside from the ordinary way, I may meet some congenial one that I could never have known otherwise.”
He rubbed his hands, smiled and showed me the mammoth album containing photographs of gentlemen. (I was not permitted to see the women.) Such a collection! The Rogues’ Gallery is hardly more varied or interesting. By the side of a clerical-looking man, with quite hypocritical face, came an ancient Santa Clause, who looked as if, after all his years, he ought to know better. It was all very interesting, and I was longing to take the album away as a souvenir. It may be that these photographs were not all of would-be Benedicts, for I noticed over the mantel a large card announcing that orders would be taken there for photographs.
The woman wanted me to fill out a descriptive blank. I was at that moment in a very tight place. I dared not give my own address, lest they find out that I belonged to a newspaper, and I had no other. I said I was living with an aunt and that she was so conventional that is she ever heard of me doing such a thing she would do all sorts of harm to me. But I wanted a copy of the descriptive blank and had to invent something to get permission to take the blank home. Through a great many imaginary stories I got it and filled it out the next day.
Here it is as I filled it up:
THE CATALOGUE OF VIRTUES
Lady’s Description Blank No. 17,244
Registered in Book —-, page —-.
When you have filled out this description blank plainly write your full address on a separate piece of paper; pin both together and return to us.
Your name will be given in confidence and no person whatever can obtain it from us. All others will know and address you (in our care) by a number only.
For $5 you are entitled to our services until you become engaged (or for $3 for three months) in assisting you to make selections from the description blanks and from the advertisements that may appear, also to the forwarding of post-paid letters and the insertion of a forty-word advertisement during the time for which you engage our services.
1. What is your age? Eighteen.
2. What is your weight? Varies; 120 pounds in sealskin.
3. What is your height? Five foot five inches, including French heels.
4. What is your complexion? Brunette.
5. What is your nationality? American.
6. What is your occupation? Killing time.
7. What is your religion? Very liberal.
8. What is your amount of real and personal property? (?)
9. What is your yearly income? $2,000.
10. What amount do you expect to inherit? $200,000 on the death of my grandparents.
11. Have you good health? Perfect.
12. Were you ever married? Left a widow two months after my marriage.
13. If so, how many children have you? None.
14. What are age and sex of children?—-
15. What are your views and habits in regard to the use of tobacco and alcoholic drinks? Liberal, if not used to excess.
16. Are you accomplished in vocal or instrumental music? Yes, in both.
17. In what State or Territory do you reside? New York, at present, cosmopolitan.
18. Will you answer in some way all courteous letters we may forward to you from our patrons whom we believe to be sincere? With pleasure.
19. Between what ages must your correspondents be? Twenty-three and eighty years.
20. Do you object to one who has been married? No.
21. Do you object if your correspondent has one child? No.
22. Do you object if your correspondent has more than one child? No.
23. State what religion you prefer. Have no preference.
24. State what nationality you prefer. Have no preference.
Your photograph is a very valuable addition to the description, and will be held by us subject to such instructions as you send with it, and promptly returned when requested. In selecting correspondence from our lists, our patrons almost always prefer those of whom a photograph and the most complete description may be seen.
If you give good references it enables us to introduce you more promptly and often to a better class of our patrons. Inquiries are never addressed to your references over our own signature, or in a manner to give them an intimation of your business with us.
Any further description you may desire to give of yourself or correspondent must be written concisely and plainly, without your name or address, upon one side only of a sheet of paper containing no other matter. Names of references should be written on still another sheet of paper.
THE PRICE OF A HUSBAND
After I had filled out the blank and paid my fee I was requested to sign a check for the amount I would pay on the day I married. Then came the hitch. They wanted my address so as to insure them the money and I could not give it. I pleaded my aunt’s displeasure, my disinheritance by my grandparents and at last said I would rather not come than have to give it. They had the $5, and they suggested that I try the agency for ten days and if, at the end of that time, I did not have enough confidence in them to give my address, we would arrange some other way. I was glad to get off so easily, so I signed the check with my assumed name. Here is the check:
$100 NEW YORK, Nov. 11, 1887
When I marry, or promise to marry a man whose acquaintance I have formed through the influence of, or to whom I have been in any manner introduced by …….. either through the columns of ……….., or otherwise, I promise to pay ………….. or order on demand, for value received, in above services rendered, the full sum of $100.
Signed, Mrs. JEAN HASTING THOMPSON.
“How do you get so many people?” I asked, for almost every time I went there I found the three-story house filled and the several clerks always kept busy.
“We advertise for many different things, and when we get the replies we send them our matrimonial paper. Then we have parties who send us names and addresses.”
ANSWERS TO PERSONALS
About the same time a young friend who had more recklessness than discretion answered a “personal,” and received the following reply from the agent I was patronizing:
The advertisement which you answered by addressing Burnette, Box 20 Journal, uptown, we inserted for one of our patrons with whom we are personally acquainted. As you gave so brief a description of yourself, it is impossible for us to tell whether our client would be suited with your description or not.
If you will call we will give you a full description of him. If you cannot do this and will fill out and return to use inclosed description blank we can then give you more definite information, and if agreeable a personal introduction at our rooms. Respectfully,
H.B. WELLMAN (BARNARD).
This letter, if presented within two weeks from date, will entitled you to an introduction to the gentleman described. If you accept this invitation appoint your own time in the evening or Sunday.
I next bought a box at a downtown office where I could receive my letters. Shortly afterwards I got a little yellow envelope and in it was this strange missive:
MISS GYPSY HASTINGS: You are invited to be present at your rooms promptly at 8 o’clock P.M. Friday, Nov. 25, 1887. Hoping at that time to make you acquainted with an agreeable gentleman, we are, respectfully, H.B. WELLMAN.
NOTE—If you desire to be introduced by any other name than the one written above, plainly write it here……………………….
Detach the part of this sheet marked B and return to us in inclosed envelope by return mail. If you accept the invitation, sign and date the printed form B; if you decline the invitation, or if you cannot be present at the time stated, and desire us to endeavor to make arrangements at some other time, state the time and write full particulars on the back of sheet marked B.
On arrival ring the bell nearest our name-plate at the door. You will be shown to a private reception room. Then present the portion of this letter marked A to the one who has admitted you, and you will be notified when the person arrives who is to meet you.
Should the interview continue longer than one hour after the time appointed, an additional charge will be made.
It is optional with our patrons to accept or decline these invitations, but if accepted and an unforeseen emergency should prevent your coming, you will notify us at once by telegraph or messenger. The failure to notify us in this manner subjects you to a fine of 50 cents, which must be paid before you can receive another introduction.
MR. H.B. WELLMAN: I will on the terms above stated accept your invitation to be present at your reception rooms at 8 o’clock P.M. on Friday, Nov. 25, 1887.
THE TALKING CANDIDATE
It was raining that evening when I started out to meet a would-be husband. Husband-hunting did not appear a very congenial pursuit, as I waded through the mud to a Broadway car that stopped half a block above where I signaled it. Once at the house the agent took me into a small room and lectured me on the good qualities of the man.
“He is not a dude, but he is a good man and would make a first-class husband. He is President of two mining companies and is very rich and aristocratic, so you’ll have to be nice. Come now.”
With eager expectancy I followed on tip-toe, and French heels, to meet the paragon of perfection. I stopped at the door, took a long breath and put to death an amused chuckle, as the agent rapped gently with his knuckles. There was no response, but the agent went right in and I followed. He mumbled something meant for an introduction, and a great, long figure arose from the sofa at the end of the room. The door closed and I was left alone with him.
He was easily six feet two, loosely built. His clothes, while comfortable, would never make him a rival of the great Berry Wall. He had brown hair, side whiskers and mustache. His movements, except of the tongue, were slow and heavy. He was fully forty-two years old.
“I did not hear your name,” I said, after a long pause.
“I was introduced as Mr. Hoage, but my name is Calvin A. Poage. I am President of two mining companies. Our office is 61 Broadway, and I love at the Hotel Barrett.”
AN INTERESTING BIOGRAPHY
Mr. Poage then handed me two certificates in proof of what he had said. They read that they were to “certify that H.C. Gilbert had bought 100 share sin the ——— Mining Company,” and were signed H.C. Gilbert, Secretary, and C.A. Poage, President. “I was born in Virginia,” he continued, “and my father was a teacher. When I was yet a child he removed to Missouri. He was a very smart man, and master of thirty different musical instruments. I am master of very nearly as many. I was a prodigy when a child. People used to come from miles around to see me. When I was eight years old I cold speak and write Latin, and when I was ten I wrote Greek. At eighteen I graduated from Princeton. Yes, I was always wonderfully smart,” with a self-satisfied air. “I have gotten all the glory I want in this life, and now I am working for money. I am an eloquent orator, and was owner and editor of a paper called the Occident, in San Francisco, for years. I am well known as a writer, and people urge me to sell them letters.”
“How lovely to be a writer,” I breathed rapturously, and I kicked the table to remind me that a story depended on my self-control. “What do you write for, these horrid daily papers or the dear, delightful magazines?”
“I write for the Century and a number of others. I’m very famous as a writer, as well as a lecturer, and if I wanted to devote myself to literature I could make lots of money,” with pride.
“Oh, really! How lovely!” I exclaimed, with an accent of wonderment, and not wholly assumed. “How silly I am! I always thought writers got very little money.”
“Oh, no,” pompously; “there is John Howard, Jr.—he is now senior—he got $25,000 a year from one paper.”
It was again necessary for me to exercise my self-control. The assumed knowledge of one he did not know even by his correct name was too much.
“Henry George and I are bosom friends. When he was unknown, out in California, his paper and mine got up the great land scheme. I helped him organize the Anti-Poverty Society, and my name is No. 18 on the list. I am a lion in society and that’s why I’ve left it for this. The young ladies all make such a favorite of me that it bores me.”
HIS FAMOUS FRIENDS
“Do you know Talmadge? Well, he and I are like brothers. When he came to San Francisco his first visit was a complete failure. I took him up and my paper made his success. I am the distinguished literary man he speaks of in his lecture as going with him through Chinatown. I went over to his church one Sunday after I came East. I did not intend to trouble him when the sermon was over but as I started out he called to me: ‘Come here, California,’ and began climbing over the pews and everything to me.”
The minutes dragged into hours and yet he talked. I quit listening to him at last and began to think of other things. When my thoughts returned to earth he was still talking. I was weary and faint from the siege, so I suggested, with quivering lips and a trembling voice, that it was time for me to go hom.
“Can’t I see you again?” he asked.
“Not so long as oatmeal is cheap and Rough on Suicides only 15 cents a box.” I began to mentally swear. Then aloud. “Well, I couldn’t see you here again, and Aunt is so queer.”
That poor aunt!
“What church does your aunt attend?”
“Methodist,” I replied, carelessly.
“Well, you tell me her minister and I will get him to introduce me. I know she will be glad to meet me. Everybody is.”
“Oh!: I exclaimed, realizing that I was in deep water. I must do something to save myself.
“You don’t know my aunt’s minister. He believes in mission work, and prayers, and sewing and asking blessings over chicken dinners. Indeed he’s dreadful,” and I gave a little shudder at my narrow escape and the eloquent picture.
He then said that he often met women on the cars, in art galleries, at church fairs and in music stores. I disclaimed all knowledge of how to flirt, and added that even if I did my aunt would never recognize such a man. He left me on the corner without lifting his hat, and so ended my first introduction to a would-be husband. I got on a car, rode several blocks, got off, and made a complete circuit in this way, so that if any one were following me I should know it.
HARD TO SUIT
On the please of wanting to make a selection, I got the description book one day and read of its applicants. Most of the men were decidedly original in spelling and grammar. Most of those belonging to New York were commonplace and monotonous, while those from the West possessed at least an amusing sparkle. One man wrote opposite to the questions as to having children or if he objected to a widow with children. “Know;” another, “Now.” Very few objected to a widow or to one child, but almost every one objected to more than one child. Several said that if the child was a boy they would not object. One man wrote that he wanted a wife who had money enough to start a drug store. Another wrote: “I am an athlete, a dead shot, am handsome and have a magnificent figure. The girl must be my equal in this.” Evidently one man had a better taste in religious matters, for he wrote: “My wife must have a neat, trim figure and lost of vim. She must not expect to turn the house into a Y.M.C.A. hall or a ‘Clergyman’s Rest.’ ”.
HE WAS ALL FOR LOVE
The next candidate was a slim little man with black hair and mustache. He looked like an undertaker in costume. He wore a double-breasted black coat, highly polished shoes, a silk hat, light overcoat and carried a large-headed cane. The agent first told me that he did not know much about this man and that I would have to watch out for myself. I told him I felt quite capable of doing that. Mr. Holmes, Miss Hastings, and I was left with him. He sat at the opposite side of the room and appeared quite bashful and nervous.
“Do you think you would always love your husband, Miss Hastings?” he asked bashfully.
I had some doubts on the subject, but I answered confidently in the affirmative. He smiled a bashful smile and gave his chair a hitch.
“Would you marry for love, Miss Hastings, regardless of what the man was?” he queried plaintively.
Again I replied heartily in the affirmative, and he smiled and gave his chair another hitch.
“Do you admire dark men, Miss Hastings?” I looked at his brunette complexion, and, with a soul-stirring sidelong glance, I breathed the affirmative. Again he smiled and gave his chair a hitch.
GOOD AT QUESTIONS
He was quite an adept at asking questions, and at each favorable reply the chair was slightly moved until I began to see that it was gradually making its way across the room to where I sat. To break the monotony I asked him of those he had met before me.
“I was not much taken with them,” he said. “The last one I saw was about forty-five years old, and she was dreadful. She talked all the time about dudes, and I felt offended.” I laughed quite heartily, for I wondered if he thought himself a dude. He told me then how much I pleased him, and asked me to meet him again. He got the matrimonial paper and showed me this advertisement of himself:
1558. A gentleman of thirty, with $60,000, a fine position, a good character, good health, reputation and habits, wishes the acquaintance of ladies under twenty-eight, highly educated and of unblemished character and social rank. Money no object.
I promised to write to him, so we exchanged addresses His was B.W. Holmes, P.O. Box 3, 441, city. Before the hour was over his chair, quite strangely, had crossed the room by itself and was close to mine. This made me think of home, so I said “aunt” did not allow me out late and I must go.
In a few days I received quite a thrilling letter from him. It has not yet been answered.
HER THIRD CANDIDATE
My next candidate was quite devoid of sentiment. When I arrived at the house the clerk told me all the reception rooms were full and so she put me into a little side closet, where there was one table, a chair and an oil lamp. I peeped through the door and saw a young woman, apparently a servant, taken into another room. This was the only time I ever saw any one, although the house was always filled. At last the agent called me and I was brought face to face with a tall, fair-complexioned, sharp-featured man. He was not badly dressed and his manners were short and decided.
“I haven’t the least idea of marrying,” he said almost instantly, as if he feared I would fall into his arms. “I only come here for the fun of the thing. What do you come for?”
Instantly I thought maybe he was one of the detectives set to find out my purpose, so I determined to balk him. Nothing could induce me to speak ill of the place.
“Of course, people cannot meet for good purposes here. Any one can have friends enough without coming here for more.”
I talked softly of fate guiding our footsteps and leading us to our alter egos, and made my eyes look a sentiment my heart was far from felling.
“Well, my name is J.E. Cassett. I live at No. 152 Lexington avenue and have an insurance agency at No. 155 Broadway. I was born in Cincinnati, O. My people are the first in the place and they just run the town. When I came here I did not know any one, so I thought I would try this place. I think it is a money-making scheme.”
“Have you met many here?”
“No, I did the most of it through corresponding, but the letters all slopped over with one idea, and that was marriage. Every one was crazy to marry. I was not, so I quit it.”
“Did you meet any of your correspondence?”
“Yes, I met one. She lived in Philadelphia, in a nice three-story brown front. I sent my card up to her, and when she came down she said I must let her folks think that I met her at Asbury Park last summer. She wanted to be married by a minister. I think that most of the people who come here are matured and long past the day of sentiment. It is the matter of money or a home with them.”
HE USED TO BE ONE OF THE BOYS
My next candidate for matrimony was a little fellow with black mustache and eyes and head of gray hair, of which he was quite proud. This time I was in a little hall room with a sofa, a chair, a stand and a badly smelling oil lamp. The little fellow put his light cape overcoat across the chair and sat down on it. He talked a great deal about himself. He said he was quite a noted singer and socially was in the best circles. He longed to find a wife.
“Lately I think of nothing but marriage,” he said. “I used to be one of the boys, but now I want to settle down. I want a wife who will be satisfied to love me and me alone.”
“As if your wife would ever wish to love another!” I sighed.
“I did not like any of the ladies I met here before,” he chirruped sweetly, “but I should like to meet you again. My assumed name is Carl W. Vincent, and I receive all my letters care of Ditson & Co., 867 Broadway. If you would only let me know what evening I could meet you I would be so happy.”
I told Carl he had better meet more women at the agency before he decided on one. I encouraged him in this laudable search for a wife, but I refused my personal aid. One similarity in all the candidates’ stories impressed me. With one exception they belonged to the best of families, moved in the highest society and were the favorites of their circles.
HE WANTED A HOUSEKEEPER
One of the funniest candidates was a man who evidently thought to get a housekeeper for nothing by marrying her. His first questions were: Can you cook and sweep well; can you make beds nicely; are you a good washer and ironer; will you make the fires and carry the coal, and is your health perfect? Answered in the affirmative, he said: “If you can give me proof of all this I will marry you.”
One of the most sensible men I met there was a young Englishman. Barring his lisp, he was nice.
“I want a wife who loves here home and who is of a cheerful disposition. I do not care if she has money or not. I would not marry a woman for money. I went to see a young lady and she asked me whether I would get up and make the fires. ‘What’s the use of living if one has to make fires?’ I replied. So she said she would never marry a man who would not promise to do that. I don’t care whether a woman can work or not, but I must have a sensible, amiable, net, happy wife. I do not know a girl among my acquaintances that will answer my ideal, so I sought this agent’s aid to help me find one.”
AN OLD WIDOWER
Among the other candidates was a Mr. Williams, who has a drug store in Harlem. He has been a widower for thirteen years and has a daughter fifteen years old. He was rather timid.
“You are so good-natured and happy,” he said, looking admiringly at me, while I laughed at some of his remarks. “I wouldn’t be afraid of you. It would not take me long to ask you to marry me. I suppose you think I am old enough to be your grandfather?”
“No, oh no,” I replied with a smile. I did not want to discourage him.
“You have such a way about you. I would not be timid if I knew you long.”
I laughed at the doubtful compliment and he flushed with pleasure.
“I have a nice home and a greenhouse, and today I bought a $300 hot soda fountain. Do you like soda? Wouldn’t you like to be a druggist or a druggist’s wife?”
I thought he was getting along too rapidly for his own good, so I changed the conversation.
“Tell me if some of the women you have met here,” I said.
“With one exception they were perfectly horrible.”
“Every way; dress, appearance, manners and so anxious to marry. I never saw one a second time.”
“You must be hard to please,” I suggested with a little pout.
“Oh, no. Really now, don’t think that. If I had only met some one like you”—
But I told him my aunt would miss me and left him, and that ended my experiences in a matrimonial agency. I am still in search of a husband, and Mr. Wellman has my $5.
The works of Nellie Bly and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism.