The general public tends to think of foreign wives married to Americans or other citizens of developed countries as mail order brides and considers the practice a newly emergent phenomenon that has impacted relationships between genders. There have even been efforts to regulate it or restrict the practice based on unfounded fears. But most people’s perceptions are wrong and the history is a lot more interesting.
Mail Order Brides
It’s difficult to say how or when the term mail order bride was coined and first used. I suspect that the earlier practice before the internet age of finding and seeking a mail order bride involved browsing through catalogs that featured pictures of foreign women with brief descriptions about them. It was very similar in format to department stores listing their merchandise in catalogs that consumers can browse and place orders. Mail Order Bride might have been a marketing gimmick or an oversimplified description among the public about what the process of finding a foreign bride was.
The term is a bit of a misnomer since it implies that you can simply browse through a catalog, place an order and a woman shows up at your door that is willing to marry you. This isn’t how it works at all. US visa regulations require a couple to meet in person before any “mail order bride” can arrive in the country on a marriage or fiance visa. Other western countries have similar regulations. A lot of men who have searched for and married foreign women will also advise that you meet each other more then once and meet the family as well. A woman simply cannot be shipped to your doorstep and any serious man wouldn’t advise it even if it were possible. The process only superficially resembles the process we might think of when we encounter the term “mail order”
Mail order bride has taken on a negative connotation among the public and is often used pejoratively to refer to women that are trying to immigrate to a more prosperous and developed country by marrying an unsuspecting citizen, only to divorce him and retain legal residency. It also seems to disparage the men who marry such brides as socially inept or unable to find a woman in his own country to marry. So many of the men and women in such marriages tend to shirk the term. However, the term is ingrained in the public consciousness and will be the keyword that’s most searched for in search engines, so many have had to learn to cope with the ignorant inquiries.
The fact is that the phenomenon is in response to demographics. Each party sees himself or herself in an environment where there are very few individuals of the opposite sex who are interested in marriage or are considered to be unmarriageable. A marriage-minded individual is often forced to seek other venues and that often means other countries. But, it may surprise some people that such things have happened in our past.
The King’s Daughters
In the 17th century, King Louis XIV noticed a problem with French colonies in the New World, particularly in modern-day Canada. While colonists have been successful in exploring, subduing and colonizing the newly discovered lands, there weren’t that many women there. This meant relatively few marriages and fewer children being born which imperiled the colonies due to the more rapidly growing British colonies in the modern-day east coast of the United States as well as competition among the native inhabitants.
To keep population growth in the French colonies on pace and secure colonial holdings, Louis XIV recognized the need to send women of marriageable age to the colonies for some of the men to marry and start families and recruited nearly 1000 such women over several years. They mostly came from Paris but some came from other areas as well. A journey to the colonies was still known to carry many unknown risks. To entice volunteers, Louis XIV provided transportation costs and a dowry for such women.
Often the colonial empires used their colonial holdings to send vagrants and other undesirables that are causing problems in Europe’s mainland empire. So to ensure that the women volunteer’s character was unbesmirched the government referred to the volunteers as The King’s Daughters. They weren’t The King’s Daughters in name only, they had to be endorsed by their priest to be good moral characters and chaste–something that I’m sure would have been publicized so that women felt that they can volunteer without being judged as a questionable character.
The King’s Daughters weren’t merely given to the colonists. They were chaperoned while suitors had to court them and prove themselves, much like an American man must prove his worth to a foreign woman today. A King’s Daughter had the right to refuse an offer, This program wasn’t human trafficking, indentured servitude or slavery in any way.
It was truly a new life full of challenges for The King’s Daughters. They didn’t just have to survive the voyage to the New World (something that wasn’t guaranteed by any means). They had to adapt to a new life and new way of living. Many of the women were from Paris, an urban environment, and had to learn to adapt to agrarian lifestyles in the colonies. They had to acquire new skills and cope with new challenges and dangers. But the program was successful and the population grew rapidly.
“Mail Order Brides” in today’s modern world may have it easier due to modern conveniences, but they’ll still be coping with a new culture, new language and new ways of doing things that The King’s Daughters did not. People willing to give up and sacrifice everything they know for a shot at a better life abroad should be admired and respected. I don’t understand how we’ve become so accepting as a country for nontraditional relationships such as gay marriage or interracial relationships while acceptance of relationships between American citizens and their foreign brides continues to lag. I suspect that it’s become fashionable to accept something like gay marriage and everybody else follows the trend, not out of any sense of idealism or moral foundation, but in the spirit that drives the phenomenon of “keeping up with the Joneses”. If so, then acceptance of foreign brides might be a long way in coming and more of us should advocate for it.