BY W. S. ADAIR
An application for a charter for a marriage benefit
concern, the insurance to be collected at the time of marriage
instead of at death, as with life insurance companies, was the
other day refused by J. S. Morris, secretary of State of Oklahoma,
according to an Associated Press dispatch.
This application recalls the marriage
aid societies which were similar and flourished for a brief period
all over the South in the early '80s. Preposterous as such financing
now appears on its face, the scheme, at [the] time, seemed to
many of the leading business and professional men, to be perfectly
sound, and at the same time, to offer a solution of the long
vexed question of providing a start for impecunious couples.
Orators Were Busy.
Much oratory was expended at the meetings,
which were held everywhere in presenting the scheme to the people,
and uninspired, indeed, must have been the orator who could not
wax eloquent on the perenially heart-stirring topics of love,
courtship, marriage, home, hearth and kindred themes.
The plan was accepted everywhere as the
very thing for which the world had so long been waiting. But,
still more wonderful than the idea itself was the mystery of
why so obvious a way around matrimonial difficulties had not
been discovered sooner. But, instead of standing stupidly
staring at the wonder, the people, acting on the proverb, "Better
late than never," straightway addressed themselves to the
work of organizing societies, and of starting the greatest matrimonial
boom in the history of the country.
Every day, new societies were announced
and policy holders multiplied. Rooms over stores, which
had been sacred to the cobwebs for a generation, suddenly blossomed
into bright, niftily-furnished offices, and the whole community
seemed to breathe new life. Hundreds of the leading men
of the country permitted themselves to be elected officers of
the concerns, even if they did have very little to say about
the matter in after years.
Paid Regular Dues.
An applicant for membership in one of
these societies was permitted to take out a policy on himself,
or on any other person. He paid a certain entrance, or
membership fee, and then weekly or monthly dues, according to
the amount of his policy, and when he or the person, on whom
he held a policy was married, he had, according to the terms
of the contract, the amount of the policy coming to him.
In practice, however, no one ever took
out a policy on himself until he had arranged the preliminaries
of his marriage. No more did he on any one else, until
he had assured himself that that person was engaged to be married
on a certain day. But, this was not all. When a marriage
was arranged for, the event was widely advertised, in order that
whosoever desired might secure a policy on one or both of the
contracting parties, and everybody got in on the ground floor.
Some Policies Paid.
Some of the societies actually paid a
few policies at first, and whenever this happened, business immediately
picked up with the paying concern. But afterward, even
this actual delivery of the goods was brought in[to] question
by carping victims, who gave signs that they shrewdly suspected
that the officers of the society paid the money out of their
own pocket and charged it to "advertising," well knowing,
that by so doing, they could catch a still bigger school of suckers
the next haul.
During the heyday of the boom, matchmakers
were, for once, welcomed into the open and urged to get busy,
and keep busy. Many a fearful old bachelor, who had long
hesitated to take the dreaded plunge, was caught in the psychological
tidal wave and were overwhelmed, and even some old maids have
the broom to thank for providing them with what they perhaps
would, otherwise, never have obtained.
Had Nuptials Postponed.
In some instances, the officers of the
concerns, taking alarm at the barrenness of the exchequer on
a closely approaching marriage, offered the parties liberal bonuses
to postpone the celebration of their nuptials, and, in at least
one case in Dallas, the offer was accepted, and the wedding never
did come off. In another notable instance, consternation
seized the policy holders, and joy, the officers of the societies,
when it became known that the woman who was scheduled to marry
a popular and heavily insured man, had suddenly decided to unite
her destinies with another man, and had actually been married
to him. It was thought highly ungracious in her not to
apprise her friends, to the end that they might hedge.
As the most inexperienced person at this
distance from the glamor of the movement can easily anticipate,
these organizations were shortlived, for what would become of
the strongest old-line life insurance company if it should depart
from its established way of doing business and begin to insure
only such subjects as had been given up by their physicians?
The boom collapsed almost overnight, and everybody seemed
to become disillusioned at once, just as a farmer who pays good
money to a stranger on a train for a worthless check, invariably
discovers his mistake the moment the stranger vanishes.
Some Promoters Innocent.
- October 10, 1920,
The Dallas Morning News,
There were, of course, some dishonest
persons engaged in the business, persons who knew that it was
a crazy, impossible scheme, and who were in it for the money
they hoped to get out of it quickly, but there is not the slightest
doubt that the officers and directors of the great majority of
the concerns acted in good faith, and were as innocent as their
dupes, as shown by the fact that many of them paid the debts
of the societies out of their private funds.
The marriage aid boom was one of those
unaccountable delusions, which, now and then, sweep the country,
depriving the people of reason and hurrying them into follies
which children would not commit in more sober times. The
whole thing was well laughed at, not precisely at the time of
its collapse, but afterward, and for long afterward.
Pt. III, p. 13, col. 1.
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