Genteel Spinster Seeks Gentleman

Okay, sure, I missed my deadline for posting my personal ad in the 19th century style. I will confess to being quite reluctant around completing this particular reader suggestion. Truth is I am not sure whether posting a personal ad in 19th century style will make me more interesting or just more weird. While many people who are interesting are so largely because of their weirdness (Tim Burton, Lady Gaga), it is easy enough to accidentally slide from lovingly eccentric to creepy-weird. Take, as an example, Paul Reuben‘s Pee Wee Herman character, a once beloved and brilliant comedic character. It is now, years later, almost impossible to see his image and not still feel a little creeped out by it. I fear that my placing an on-line personal ad in 19th century style may put me in the “creepy-weird” category too.

Still I have been doing a little research in preparation for posting my “lonely hearts” ad. Over dinner one night, as I recounted the trials and tribulations of my re-education project to a friend, she suggested that I read Jane Austen to get into the 19th century romantic mood. I thought this was a great idea. I love Jane Austen, and from who better to learn the ins and outs of 19th century romance. At yoga class the next day (yes, see, I still do go to yoga class!), she brought me a beat-up copy of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, a book that I have never read. It is also very appropriately about a woman, just like me, seeking love “well past her first bloom”, except that I am wellhellya past my first bloom. I have also found a few books written specifically on the subject of 19th century personal ads and the history of the personal ads:


I also stumbled on-line upon a blog by a woman who recently completed her PhD on 19th century personal ads! She has decided to blog about the “funny, strange, poignant and just plain bizarre personal ads” she’s come across in her research. You can find her fascinating blog at .  It has proven to be a goldmine of good (and some very bad) ideas for my own personal ad. Here are some examples that she has cited on her blog:

A gentleman of refinement, education, and high-toned honor, belonging to an excellent family, a stranger in this part of the world, would be happy to begin a confidential correspondence with a well-bred and accomplished young lady, 18 or 20 years old, of find personal appearance and beautiful face, and occupying a good position in the best circles of society, with a view to matrimony. Good and satisfactory reasons can be given for this address to the ladies of New York; and he hopes that the honest impulses of his heart will inspire confidence in his honor and elicit proper responses from sincere parties. Address [?] Van Berg, New York city Post office.

An American gentleman, thirty years of age, wishes to form the acquaintance of some American lady (an orphan preferred), not less than 18 nor more than 24 years of age, with a view to matrimony. She must be of the highest respectability, prepossessing and genteel in appearance, of good education, accustomed to good society and of a loving disposition. Any lady answering the above can do so with the utmost confidence, as all communications will be strictly confidential, and letters returned when requested; for this means just what it says, nothing more and nothing less. Address for three days, giving real name and where can be seen (none others will be noticed), Knickerbocker, box 164 Herald office.

Clearly, not unlike today, finding a mate in 19th century society would be easier for me, if I was about 20 years younger. By 19th century standards (and possibly by 21st century standards too), I have reached the age of spinsterhood. Here is what Wikipedia has to say about the term “spinster”:

A spinster, or old maid, is an older, childless woman who has never been married.

For a woman to be identified as a spinster, age is critical. A “spinster” is not simply a “single” woman, but a woman who has not formed a human pair bond by the time she is approaching or has reached menopause and the end of her reproductive lifespan.[1]

“If someone is a spinster, by implication she is not eligible (to marry); she has had her chance, and been passed by,” explains Robin Lakoff in Language and Woman’s Place.

Jesus, that’s harsh! It is disheartening to say the least, and more like utterly crushing. It is, in 19th century speak, a dastardly definition! DASTARDLY!!!!

I first started to think about myself as entering the vile spinsterhood last year, while I was in Scotland. Interestingly enough, if you believe Wikipedia‘s siting of the Oxford Dictionary, the origins of the term Spinster began a mere 3 kilometers away from where I was staying in Scotland, in a little village called Tranent: a place, it should be noted, that also has a bit of the old maid vibe about it. Let’s just say, Tranent is definitely not a place listed on tourists’ dance cards. Apparently, the term “spinster’ was first used in Tranent during medieval times to refer to women who earned a living spinning wool, and who were thereby less in need of a man for financial support.

Anyway, dastardly as it may be, I think there is no escaping it – I will have to identify myself as a “spinster” in any 19th century personal ad that I create.

Here is a personal ad I could have responded to, if I was alive in the 19th century:

—“I hereby give notice to all unmarried women that I, John Hobnail, am at this writing five-and-forty, a widower, and in want of a wife. As I wish no one to be mistaken, I have a good cottage, with a couple of acres of land, for which I pay 2L. a year. I have five children, four of them old enough to be in employment; three sides of bacon, and some pigs ready for market. I should like to have a woman fit to take care of her house when I am out. I want no second family. She may be between forty and fifty, if she likes. A good stirring woman would be preferred, who would take care of the pigs.” ~Blackwood ~True Sun | London, Middlesex | Thursday, February 02, 1837 | Page 6 1842 (The Lonely Hearts of Yesterday: Love & Mischief in 19th Century Personal Ads, by Laura Schaefer).

I do like bacon!

Also seemingly important to highlight in my 19th century styled personal ad will be my “genteel” temperament, my good education, my good position in society, and my ability to keep a nice home. I will have to make it clear in my ad, that I have “a view to matrimony” as well. Well, okay then. In truth, I imagine that no woman in her right mind would post a personal ad in the 19th century. It would be considered very unladylike to do so. As it happens I also think that no woman in their right mind would post a 19th century personal ad today either. But, I will anyway….and VERY anonymously.

Here are a couple of options I am considering posting. I will await your feedback before I post:

Genteel Spinster seeks Gentleman: A lady of good education with an untarnished reputation seeks the acquaintance of a gentleman of equally good character to pursue a correspondence, with a view to matrimony. She is very handsome in appearance with auburn hair, maintaining a healthy, attractive rose in her cheek and possessing a youthful, engaging energy. She is equally adept at hosting dinner parties and keeping a comfortable, well-appointed home as she is at creating a homey campsite in the wilds. She is amiable with many respectable social connections, and enjoys the many social opportunities these connections provide her with. Being a good stirring woman, well-travelled, with an agreeable disposition and a curious mind, she is accomplished at many things, and seeks a companionship that is adventurous and stimulating. Responses from all good-hearted, gallant gentleman will be received in confidence and with warmest sincerity.


Genteel Spinster with bad knees, an increasingly unreliable memory, and yet who still valiantly hangs on to her sunny, amiable disposition (and her illusions), AND who has reached the elevated age of two and forty with nary one matrimonial offer, seeks an acquaintance with a gentleman, with a view to matrimony. Any gentleman will do. All responses will be considered and GREATLY appreciated.

Let me know what you think. I will also attach this portrait of Jane Austen as my profile picture:

Portrait of Jane Austen