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Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  147 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)
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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
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
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.
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
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
Dan Pecchenino
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
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.

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
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.
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.
Margaret Zhang
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.
Paula McConnell
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.
also excellent, haven't finished. great history on marriage. used in human behavior and policy classes.
A history of the fucked up way hetero/monogamous marriage became what people think is normal and natural.
Truly fascinating historical analysis of the role of marriage in American society and culture.
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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...
The Bonds of Womanhood: "Woman's Sphere" in New England, 1780-1835 The Grounding of Modern Feminism No Small Courage: A History of Women in the United States Root of Bitterness: Documents of the Social History of American Women A Heritage of Her Own: Toward a New Social History of American Women

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