By Kelly McNees
In Need of a Good Wife tells the story of a fictional group of mail-order brides traveling west from New York City to Nebraska after the Civil War. These characters agree to marry men with whom they’ve shared only a handful of letters, and one of the best part of drafting this novel was imagining what those letters might look like.
I found a source of information in the correspondence between Nebraska settler Uriah Oblinger and his wife Mattie, who were separated for several years while Uriah settled the land he acquired through the Homestead Act of 1862. The Oblingers’ marriage was not arranged through the newspaper or mail—they met as children in Sunday school—but they faced the same challenges my characters would on the unsettled frontier: drought, sickness, and even grasshopper plagues. Their deep love for one another carried them through the difficult years. Many of their letters opened with sentences like this one, from Mattie to Uriah in 1868:
“Here are those familiar words again[.] I only wish I could utter them in your hearing[.] They would be much more sweeter to me[,] yes[,] I would love to lean over your shoulder and whisper [‘]Dear Uriah[’] in your ears and you would have to be very careful or you would get a kiss[.]”
Few of the characters of In Need of a Good Wife are lucky enough to feel this kind of affection for the men they are meant to marry, though some find happy endings in unexpected ways. But I like to think that echoes of the Oblingers’ moving love story have found their way into my novel.
Kelly O’Connor McNees (http://www.kellyoconnormcnees.com) is the author of In Need of a Good Wife and The Lost Summer of Louisa May Alcott. She lives with her husband and daughter in Chicago. You’ll find Kelly on Twitter and Facebook.