Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation” as Want to Read:
Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

3.92  ·  Rating Details ·  169 Ratings  ·  16 Reviews
We commonly think of marriage as a private matter between two people, a personal expression of love and commitment. In this pioneering history, Nancy F. Cott demonstrates that marriage is and always has been a public institution.

From the founding of the United States to the present day, imperatives about the necessity of marriage and its proper form have been deeply embedd
Paperback, 297 pages
Published March 8th 2002 by Harvard University Press (first published January 5th 2001)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Public Vows, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Public Vows

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Aug 12, 2007 ian rated it really liked it
Cott's Grounding of Modern Feminism impressed the heck out of me in grad school. I found this book somewhat disappointing in contrast to that earlier achievement. Still, I've given it 4 stars because it's lucid and powerful in its demonstration of the public character of the "private" marital realm. Among the books on this subject I've read, and there are quite a few, this one stands out in its attention to monogamy as integral to U.S. American conceptions of marriage. I'd have given it five sta ...more
May 13, 2013 Nate rated it it was ok
Some interesting history and a few parts definitely stick out as great, but overall it's written in too much of a numbingly dry fashion to be enjoyable on any level. This is (sadly) the kind of book that people are forced to read in school, which then turns them away from reading in general after school is finished.

Would be best to use as a source for a paper, but certainly not great for a cover-to-cover read.

Still, the history of marriage in America is humorous and sad, and this book will help
Sep 14, 2007 Ash rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic
a fascinating study of the history of marriage in the us, with a special emphasis on the ways marriage has been socially and politically constructed as a means for gender and racial oppression.
Mar 31, 2013 Misha rated it really liked it
The coverage of the abolitionists vs. slaveowning advocates debate on
the brink of the civil war is interesting, as well as its relation to
the change of the views on marriage. All of us materialists know that
the debate was a sideshow rather than the root cause of the conflict
between North and South, and the abolitionists were scarcely paid
attention to. However, it is interesting how both sides tried to use
the analogy of master-slave and husband-wife relation to their
advantage. The slavery advocat
Sep 19, 2010 Andrew rated it really liked it
As a student in the Honors in the Major Program at UCF who chose the topic, "Women's Dynamic Role in the United States Government," I can say that this book, in great detail, discusses the many problems women have faced throughout not only America's existence, but also that of the institution of marriage. Most historical writers write with a "matter-of-fact," narrative-fact pattern hybrid. Cott, however, looks at multiple dimensions of the institution of marriage, while also discussing the multi ...more
Jan 23, 2016 Helena rated it really liked it
Ostensibly about the history of marriage in the US, this book actually spend a good deal of time touching on the path to citizenship of many races and nationalities of people through the nations history. Although it has only a brief version of each, it's definitely has made me want to read more on these topics. Now to attempt to find good books on the immediate post slavery era and the history of Japanese American immigration…

I also found the section on Social Security and race very interesting
Dan Pecchenino
Apr 19, 2010 Dan Pecchenino rated it really liked it
Generally well-written, but like most history books it uses a lots examples to make one essential point. In this case, the point is that marriage has been instrumental in shaping our ideas of citizenship in the United States. As such, the notion of marriage as either a religious or private institution is largely a fantasy, and Cott provides mountains of evidence to prove that changes to rules about marriage have been used to both maintain unequal power relations between men and women, and to sha ...more
Apr 05, 2015 Kay rated it liked it
The writing is a little dry and the chapters are hard going as they're quite long. I felt like the author frequently digressed into territory that was only tangentially related to her primary subject. I learned a lot about immigration policy and slavery, but felt like she spent too much time on what was (admittedly very important but ultimately only) background information. Cott, like Barbara Ehrenreich, has a problem with class; Cott frequently implies that women didn't work before the 30s.

May 10, 2010 Christina rated it really liked it
If you're interesting in learning the history of the institution of marriage as it relates to American values, national events, and changing laws, I highly recommend this book. The reasons why I gave it four stars instead of five are due to Cott's poor treatment of the feminist movement--one I see as biased against feminism--and her lack of interest in divorce culture as it has shaped and influenced views on marriage. She, of course, includes both aspects in her discussion, but fails to outline ...more
Jul 30, 2013 Timothy rated it really liked it
Immensely informative, and an easy read. Cott sums up a great deal of legal and cultural history, producing a generally clear narrative. The last chapter felt a bit truncated to me, and it also read like more of a polemic than the rest of the book; however, one of the challenges of history is how to cope with a lack of distance. This book is a great resource, and I only wish it were more up-to-date.
Oct 19, 2007 Rebecca rated it really liked it
Shelves: school
Cott was called as an expert witness to the US Congress on the history of marriage in America. This book is the reason she went there. She asserts that marriage in America is a public institution, and she details the changes and challenges to marriage from the early days of settlement right up to the present. It is really interesting and provides a lot of insight on the current situation.
Mar 07, 2010 Jose rated it it was amazing
also excellent, haven't finished. great history on marriage. used in human behavior and policy classes.
Margaret Zhang
Dec 21, 2013 Margaret Zhang rated it liked it
Excellent perspective on how traditional marriage is not an institution preserved pure since antiquity, but rather a public construct, molded and shaped by social forces.
Dec 30, 2007 Lindsay rated it really liked it
A history of the fucked up way hetero/monogamous marriage became what people think is normal and natural.
Paula McConnell
Oct 03, 2008 Paula McConnell rated it liked it
Interesting. It had just the information I was looking for regarding bi-racial marriages in the US at the turn of the century. I now understand why gay marriage is a difficult subject.
Laura rated it really liked it
May 02, 2015
Chelsea Hegge
Chelsea Hegge rated it it was amazing
Nov 29, 2013
Ashley Lierman
Ashley Lierman rated it really liked it
Jul 23, 2007
Corie E. Nixon
Corie E. Nixon rated it really liked it
Dec 25, 2016
Kim Garbow
Kim Garbow rated it really liked it
Nov 17, 2007
Megan rated it really liked it
Apr 06, 2011
Erin rated it really liked it
Feb 08, 2008
Lisabeth During
Lisabeth During rated it it was amazing
Jun 19, 2015
Carla rated it it was amazing
May 07, 2012
Emily rated it really liked it
Mar 19, 2016
Kelly rated it it was amazing
Dec 27, 2014
Sharalynn rated it really liked it
Apr 02, 2011
Zachary rated it it was amazing
Jun 06, 2016
Lauren rated it really liked it
Jul 16, 2015
Kristi rated it liked it
May 06, 2012
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • What Is Marriage For?: The Strange Social History of Our Most Intimate Institution
  • Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America
  • Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law
  • Here Comes the Bride: Women, Weddings, and the Marriage Mystique
  • I Don't: A Contrarian History of Marriage
  • America's War on Sex: The Attack on Law, Lust and Liberty
  • Marriage, a History: From Obedience to Intimacy or How Love Conquered Marriage
  • The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America
  • Sexual Revolution in Early America
  • How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States
  • Wifework: What Marriage Really Means for Women
  • Unhitched: Love, Marriage, and Family Values from West Hollywood to Western China
  • Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance
  • Hope in a Jar: The Making of America's Beauty Culture
  • The Lavender Scare: The Cold War Persecution of Gays and Lesbians in the Federal Government
  • City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920
  • When Abortion Was a Crime: Women, Medicine, and Law in the United States, 1867-1973
  • When Sex Goes to School: Warring Views on Sex--and Sex Education--Since the Sixties
Nancy F. Cott is Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University, and the director of the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study.
More about Nancy F. Cott...

Share This Book