Imagine a time when married at nineteen was the goal for women. Now imagine you don't easily fall into the guidelines of those expectations. And imagine a war is about to begin. These are a few of the pieces that set in motion the beginning of The Marriage Bureau in 1939. Founded by Heather Jenner and Mary Oliver, the Bureau began with "Mary's" (in fact, Audrey, but she didn't want her parents to know what she was up to) determination to find herself a husband. Two failed engagements and her parents continued exasperation led her to take out an advertisement, which she knew could be fraught with all kinds of complications. It cemented in her mind the need for a bureau to weed out and match suitable couples.
The Marriage Bureau is quite charming, even coming from someone who doesn't read a lot of not fiction. Among the history of the Bureau itself are anecdotes about real matches made and even an extra bit at the end outlining some of the more entertaining requirements on the part of both men and women looking to be matched.
As with many books set around WWII, not only does the book share the story of the matchmaking duo's budding business, but it also offers up a great snapshot of social mores and how those were being altered by the war. WWII was a time of great change and upheaval, for women in particular, as it meant more opportunities for work outside the home and more responsibilities previously thought to be inappropriate for the fairer sex. It also offered up changes in terms of the mixing of classes at the time.
Penrose Halson, author of the book, bought the matchmaking business's client list and archives in 1986, leaving her perfectly placed to pen a history of the agency. Even more so considering she herself was a client back in the 60s and again in 1981! (She was a client at the Katharine Allen Marriage & Advice Bureau, which she purchased in 1986 and was asked by Heather's daughter to then look after their clients as well.)
The Marriage Bureau is a fascinating and fun piece of dating and matchmaking history. It's also set to be adapted into a TV show in the UK (which I do hope will make it's way here!). The book is out on shelves now!
For a few fun extras, check out this Daily Mail piece on the Bureau and this post over at HistoricalNovelSociety.org, which features a great interview with Penrose Halson.
To see more stops on the tour be sure to check out the official TLC tour page here.
Purchase Links: HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble