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American Child BrideA History of Minors and Marriage in the United States$
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Nicholas L. Syrett

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9781469629537

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469629537.001.0001

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My Little Girl Wife

My Little Girl Wife

The Transformation of Childhood and Marriage in the Late Nineteenth Century

(p.118) Five My Little Girl Wife
American Child Bride

Nicholas L. Syrett

University of North Carolina Press

By the later nineteenth century, ideas about childhood and about marriage had undergone significant transformations in the United States, especially among the middle class. Children were now seen as innocents in need of protection and marriage was meant to be a complementary (if still unequal) union of two companionate souls. Both of these trends meant that child marriage increasingly came into disfavor. Focusing on depictions of child marriage in newspapers, debates about statutory rape laws, and marriage and divorce reform leagues, this chapter documents succesful efforts to raise the age of consent to marriage. It also shows the ways that working-class parents, generally those least likely to identify age as a meaningful category of identity, used these new laws to prevent their minor children from marrying.

Keywords:   Protected childhood, Companionate marriage, Newspapers, Statutory rape laws, Marriage and divorce reform leagues, Working-class parents, Age of consent

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