From 1875 to 1895, hopeful men and women from Connecticut to California daily perused the pages of the Matrimonial News in search of someone who would commit to them for the rest of their lives. Many of the advertisements emphasized a desire to correspond with interested parties for a set time before agreeing to meet in person. Others were willing to promise themselves to the first individual to respond to their notice. Some people scanned the announcements in search of an individual who could improve their financial situation.
In the spring of 1890, a San Francisco bank clerk, and a dedicated reader of the Matrimonial News was convinced he could find a spouse that would meet his economic criteria. He had vowed to locate a woman who had money of her own who was willing to share. He earned a modest sum of $300 a year and believed he could not support himself and a wife on that salary. He believed in the adage “it was just as easy to marry a rich woman as a poor one.” The clerk argued with his friends who felt he was being superficial that large sums of money made life more comfortable. He told them it was “easier to sit down to a good hot dinner than to have only a cold leg of mutton between him and his wife.”
After diligently reviewing the paper, the enterprising clerk found the advertisement he had hoped he’d find. It read: “A lady with a good income living in her own villa charmingly situated, would correspond with a gentleman with a view to matrimony. Bankers preferred. Address with editor.” The bank clerk envisioned himself living in a lavish home and being waited on by a myriad of servants. He quickly responded to the ad, and arrangements were made for the pair to meet over the Easter holiday – a day the bank was closed and the clerk did not have to work.
The meeting was to take place at the Matrimonial News office in London. Leslie Fraser Duncan, the newspaper’s editor, demanded the bank clerk pay him a fee to be introduced to the woman of means he had been fantasizing about. Once the money changed hands, Duncan locked it in a safe and led the way to the room where the lady who placed the advertisement was waiting. The clerk quickly smoothed down his suit and slicked back his hair. The woman, whose back was to the pair when they entered, was dressed in yards of crimson and black taffeta. She also wore a huge hat complete with feathers and a veil that covered her face.
The woman turned to greet the bank clerk, and his first thought was that she “evidently wished to make up in dress for what she lacked in youth.” The woman peeled back the veil as Duncan announced, “Miss Montgomery Jones, allow me to introduce….” Before he could complete the introduction the woman let out a bloodcurdling scream and then fainted. The men rushed to Miss Jones’ aide, and it was then the clerk fully realized the reason for her unexpected reaction. Miss Jones was the bank clerk’s maiden maternal aunt.
Neither the clerk nor his aunt had used his/her real name to place or answer the advertisement.