My great-grandmother, Rosalie Thoendel, was a mail order bride. As a child, I was told of her decision to immigrate to the US, and work her way to Nebraska on a train, in order to marry a man she had never met. That family history changed, however, when immigration records surfaced with a different story. Rather, in 1885, the Latzel family, with four year old Rosalie, arrived in New York City from Bohemia. Little is known of her life in New York, but her relocation to Nebraska gives us a glimpse into the domestic market of arranged marriages in the late 19th century. In 1899, at 18, Rosalie married Gustov Thoendel, a farmer, with whom she would have 12 children. But, in 1936, Gustov fell from a barn roof and died. Her diary, pictured here, begins in 1937 when Rosalie was 57 years old. With limited income as a widow in the Great Depression, most of the journal entries from 1937 concern her loneliness, monetary worries, and chores on the farm. However, the entry on March 6 displays a light hearted moment: “Storm and cold. Babe cuts out her underskirt for her green dress to match. A lovely green ruffles to on skirt a nice sash and her white shoes makes her a lovely lady she takes after her Mother [sic].” It’s amusing that almost 100 years later, moms still seem to have a habit of saying you take after them when you’re looking your best. Rosalie Thoendel may have been a mail order bride, but she was also a farmer, a widow, and a parent with a bit of self-righteous mom humor.
– Emma Long