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Matrimonial Advertising — A Very Brief Madness?

by Dr. Jennifer Phegley

While the online dating phenomenon seems to be a wholly original invention of the computer age, its roots are firmly planted in the nineteenth-century periodical press.

“Notices to Correspondents” sections of periodicals, devoted to answering reader’s questions about everything from medical ailments to love problems, began appearing in penny magazines aimed at men and women of the working and lower middle classes during the 1840s and 1850s.   Matrimonial advertisements organically grew out of these “Notices to Correspondents” sections, particularly in the London Journal, and seem to have been driven primarily by reader demand.  Correspondents began to write about their personal traits and desired qualities in a spouse, asking the editors to print their profiles or to match them up with others whose letters had appeared in the magazine.  In 1850, only a handful of matrimonial advertisements appeared in each issue of the London Journal, but by the middle of 1852 they had completely taken over the correspondence section.  For a brief period from September 1857 to July 1859 editor Mark Lemon removed the ads, causing the magazine’s circulation to plummet and forcing him to resign.[1] The audience thus demanded and received the space to advertise for love.

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