Herman Affield (1906-1970) was discharged from the army at the end of World War Two. He returned to his farm in northern Minnesota with a dream and a .50 caliber ammo box packed with war memories. On December 13, 1945, he received his first mail-order bride catalogue, The Exchange, a medium for the introduction of matrimonially inclined ladies and gentlemen. Follow along as Wendell Affield explores his stepfather’s background and his four year search for a wife. In 1949, Wendell’s mother, Barbara, a New York concert pianist who had studied abroad, met Herman through Cupid’s Columns, a lonely hearts newspaper. That autumn she moved to the small farm in northern Minnesota with her four children. Wendell was two years old.
Three months after Herman and Barbara were married, Barbara’s mother wrote a letter to the governor of New York. It begins, April 29, 1950. Dear Gov. Dewey, Please help us find our schizophrenic daughter and her 5 small children. She has been on welfare in New York City and State for the last 5 years, due to her illness. (Actually Barbara brought four children to the farm but that’s another story.) Herman and Barbara’s was a marriage made in hell. Herman was burdened with ghosts of war—today we know it as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Ten years into the marriage, after giving birth to five more children, Barbara was committed to a mental institution and the nine children were placed outside the home.
After Barbara died in 2010, Wendell discovered a time capsule of his mother’s history locked in the chickenhouse on the family farm. He spent six years studying, transcribing, and archiving hundreds of documents, thousands of letters and diary pages, some dating back to 1822, and many photos. In the attic of the old farmhouse, tucked in the .50 caliber ammo box Herman had brought home from the war, the author discovered several mail-order bride catalogues.
Wendell can offer only a light sketch of his stepfather’s early life because almost everyone is gone. Immigrant homesteaders didn’t journal and take many pictures. They were busy tilling the earth and storing winter supplies for themselves and their livestock. Herman, a German immigrant’s son, was representative of thousands of men searching for a wife after World War Two. In Part I of this narrative, Wendell explores one returning veteran’s struggle to find a wife. Herman’s story foreshadows the bleak fate so many unsuspecting women fell into. In part II Wendell illuminates the historical significance of the singles catalogues. The advertisements are a window into the plight of thousands of women in post World War Two society. Maybe you’ll find a relative, perhaps a mother, grandmother, or great grandmother, among the hundreds of women who advertised themselves. Wendell discovered his mother. Due to space limitations on electronic book formats, the full text, including Part II, with pictures, advertisements, and hundreds of women’s names, is available at Wendell Affield’s online store.
Herman: 1940s Lonely Hearts Search is the first in the series of memoir/biography.