Cover image for Man and wife in America : a history
Man and wife in America : a history
Hartog, Hendrik, 1948-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, [2000]

Physical Description:
vii, 408 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
KF510 .H37 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



In nineteenth-century America, the law insisted that marriage was a permanent relationship defined by the husband's authority and the wife's dependence. Yet at the same time the law created the means to escape that relationship. How was this possible? And how did wives and husbands experience marriage within that legal regime? These are the complexities that Hendrik Hartog plumbs in a study of the powers of law and its limits.

Exploring a century and a half of marriage through stories of struggle and conflict mined from case records, Hartog shatters the myth of a golden age of stable marriage. He describes the myriad ways the law shaped and defined marital relations and spousal identities, and how individuals manipulated and reshaped the rules of the American states to fit their needs. We witness a compelling cast of characters: wives who attempted to leave abusive husbands, women who manipulated their marital status for personal advantage, accidental and intentional bigamists, men who killed their wives' lovers, couples who insisted on divorce in a legal culture that denied them that right.

As we watch and listen to these men and women, enmeshed in law and escaping from marriages, we catch reflected images both of ourselves and our parents, of our desires and our anxieties about marriage. Hartog shows how our own conflicts and confusions about marital roles and identities are rooted in the history of marriage and the legal struggles that defined and transformed it.

Author Notes

Hendrik Hartog is Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor of the History of American Law and Liberty at Princeton University.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Hartog, a history and law professor, examines the most basic social institution from a legal standpoint. He reviews important, precedent-setting cases that have formed American law on marriage and also examines the social context that produced the laws. Marital law has been set primarily by the states, influenced by custom and religion, and, during the period of territorial expansion, attracting population. California's community property law, for example, started as an effort to attract white women out west during the gold rush period when women were scarce. Hartog examines periods when women and children were considered the property of the husband, when a man could blithely move from state to state and remarry with little legal consequence because the wife was subject to the law where the husband resided, not where she herself resided. Hartog charts the changes in law from the time when a woman's legal identity derived from her husband to no-fault divorces and economic and social (e.g., feminism) trends in this interesting look at the legal institution of marriage. --Vanessa Bush

Library Journal Review

When spouses went to court in 19th-century America, the courts were not, as some would have it, instruments of a hegemonic "covert political theory." Instead, according to Princeton's Hartog, judges improvised with the materials of law to address the conflicts of particular husbands and wives separated or at odds thanks to "strangers, seductions, abuse, and neglect." As society changed, so did the law, and the concept of coverture, whereby a wife's legal identity was "covered over" by that of her husband, gave way to a more expansive view of a woman's rights. Mining more than a century of case records, Hartog (Public Property and Private Power) has written a book that will be an essential purchase for upper-level academic collections in legal or gender history.--Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Hartog is a distinguished professor of American law at Princeton, and so it is no surprise that his broadly titled book really is an ostensibly narrower study of the law of martial separation during the "long nineteenth century," 1790-1950. By locating and exploring the legal boundaries of marital behavior, however, Hartog is also able to say much about the social and economic context of marriage. His method is to proceed through a series of themes (coercion, remarriage, incest, abandonment, violence, etc.), organizing each discussion in a separate chapter featuring a vivid and often dramatic "test" case. Further, Hartog writes with great clarity and directness. The net result is that he has made a major contribution to the history of the American family with a book that, besides its scholarly excellence, is highly accessible to general readers. Although the behaviors that Hartog describes are often grisly and distressing, the book actually is entertaining to read. With a sure hand, Hartog steers a middle course through the dangerous waters of contemporary squalls in academia; thereby he shows more generally that a master scholar can write a readable book that is both comprehensive and profound. Both public and academic libraries at all levels. R. B. Lyman Jr.; emeritus, Simmons College

Table of Contents

Introductionp. 1
1 The Scene of a Marriagep. 6
2 Abigail Bailey's Divorcep. 40
3 Early Exitsp. 63
4 Being a Wifep. 93
5 Acting Like a Husbandp. 136
6 Coercion and Harriet Douglas Crugerp. 167
7 John Barry and American Fatherhoodp. 193
8 The Right to Killp. 218
9 The Geography of Remarriagep. 242
10 Coverture in a New Agep. 287
Epiloguep. 309
A Note on Methodp. 315
Notesp. 317
Indexp. 395