Feature Marriage

Learn more about the history of marriage in the U.S.


Marriage isn't what it used to be.

As America has evolved over the centuries, so too has the institution of marriage.

In colonial times, marriage was largely a matter of property and reproduction.

When a colonial woman married, she gave up any legal right as an individual. She was legally bound to obey her husband, just as she would obey God.

Despite this, colonial marriages rarely happened in churches.

What's more, few people found fault with pregnant women marrying; in fact, the practice was quite common in early America.

None of these conditions applied to slaves, however, who were forbidden from marrying at all.

Free African-Americans were allowed to marry, but not across racial lines. Those laws continued in many states, well into the 20th century.

As the times changed, so did marriage. Romantic love came into vogue, only with the Victorian era.

The 20th century created fundamental and lasting changes in the realms of courtship and marriage.

Cars, coeducation, and urban dance halls brought the sexes closer together than ever before.

The onset of the Second World War led to thousands of quick marriages.

Many war brides, forced to raise a family and earn a living at the same time, turned to divorce in higher rates than ever before.

Today, same-sex marriages have become a political hotbed.

But the history of American marriage reveals an institution that has long been open to change, and is likely to become more, not less, inclusive.

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