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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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I Did and I Don’t Regret It

I Did and I Don’t Regret It

Child Marriage and the Contestation of Childhood, 1880–1925

(p.142) Six I Did and I Don’t Regret It
American Child Bride

Nicholas L. Syrett

University of North Carolina Press

As reformers and lawmakers raised the age of consent to marriage and made it more difficult for minors to become husbands and wives, young people reacted by marrying extralegally. From the late nineteenth century through the first three decades of the twentieth, the rates of minor marriage increased, in part, this chapter argues, because marriage became one way of legaly claiming freedom and independence from parents. Marriage emancipated children, it let them escape from abusive homes, keep their wages or inheritances, and have sex without being prosecuted under newly passed statutory rape laws. It allowed them to contest their status as children, itself newly enshrined in the law in a whole host of Progressive Era reforms targeting childhod and adolescence. At the same time the legal device of marriage could also trap girls in abusive and exploitative relationships where they had little recourse to legal protection.

Keywords:   Age of consent, Freqency of minor marriage, Parental emancipation, Statutory rape laws, Progressive Era, Adolescence, Exploitation

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