Perley B. Dickinson was born in Hill, New Hampshire, in August 1830 to Perley Dickinson, a farmer, and Mary B. Dickinson. He had a brother, Benjamin Franklin Dickinson, and a sister, Mary E. A. Dickinson. On August 16, 1859, Perley B. Dickinson married Hannah S. Woodward who was born in November 1830, and with whom he had one child, Fillmore V. (born January 1871). By 1880, he was also a farmer in Hill, New Hampshire, and by 1900, he and Hannah had divorced. He retired by 1920 and died on November 11, 1922 at the age of 92 of "cerebral softening" (Hill Town Report, 1923). Hannah was still alive in 1930, at the age of 99, and was living with their son Fillmore V. Dickinson.
Dickinson placed several personal advertisements in matrimonial agency publications, beginning around 1895. He responded to the ads of three different women in the Marriage Advocate in 1897, and placed at least one ad in Matchmaking in 1899, which read, "Smart old man, good habits, with means. Ladies please write." The bulk of this collection consists of letters written to Dickinson in response to his personal advertisements.
The Clements Library also holds two contemporary items that complement Dickinson's collection, The Wedding Bells Matrimonial Catalogue (1908), a pamphlet published in Tekonsha, Michigan, that features the photographs and personal ads of 280 women, and A Few Nuptial Attractions (1897), a broadsheet published in Chicago that contains the personal ads of almost 100 women.