American Child Bride

A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States

By Nicholas L. Syrett

368 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 13 halftones, 20 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2953-7
    Published: October 2016
  • eBook ISBN: 978-1-4696-2954-4
    Published: September 2016

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Most in the United States likely associate the concept of the child bride with the mores and practices of the distant past. But Nicholas L. Syrett challenges this assumption in his sweeping and sometimes shocking history of youthful marriage in America. Focusing on young women and girls--the most common underage spouses--Syrett tracks the marital history of American minors from the colonial period to the present, chronicling the debates and moral panics related to these unions.

Although the frequency of child marriages has declined since the early twentieth century, Syrett reveals that the practice was historically far more widespread in the United States than is commonly thought. It also continues to this day: current estimates indicate that 9 percent of living American women were married before turning eighteen. By examining the legal and social forces that have worked to curtail early marriage in America--including the efforts of women's rights activists, advocates for children's rights, and social workers--Syrett sheds new light on the American public's perceptions of young people marrying and the ways that individuals and communities challenged the complex legalities and cultural norms brought to the fore when underage citizens, by choice or coercion, became husband and wife.

About the Author

Nicholas L. Syrett is professor of women, gender, and sexuality studies at the University of Kansas and author of The Company He Keeps: A History of White College Fraternities and American Child Bride: A History of Minors and Marriage in the United States&8203;.
For more information about Nicholas L. Syrett, visit the Author Page.


"[A] comprehensive look at the history of American child marriage."--Slate

“Admirably thorough and detailed. . . . [Syrett] salts the narrative with many historical examples to illustrate his explanations. Highly recommended.”--Choice

"This meticulously researched book explores how changing patterns of youth, adulthood, geography, and gender have shaped American norms and expectations of youthful marriage. Made human by his telling of richly detailed personal stories, Nicholas Syrett's findings will surprise and likely shock contemporary readers."--Stephanie Coontz, author of Marriage, a History: How Love Conquered Marriage

American Child Bride is a timely and compelling book. In an era when marriage law and practice once again grab headlines, Nicholas L. Syrett offers us a sweeping history that chronicles changing attitudes and policies toward one of the most persistent yet controversial marital acts: young girls marrying older men. In doing so, Syrett helps us understand the larger social and cultural implications of clashes over marriage in the past and present."--Michael Grossberg, Indiana University Bloomington

"In this original and timely book, Nicholas L. Syrett tackles the controversial topic of child marriage, recovering child brides' experiences while simultaneously historicizing the cultural discomfort these marriages have provoked. Syrett reveals the complexity in these relationships--some were coercive and violent, but, counterintuitively, others enabled minors to gain agency and challenge the idea of childhood itself. Cogent, brilliantly researched, and rendered in sterling prose, American Child Bride is a major new work in the field of childhood studies."--Robin Bernstein, author of Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Rights

"As Nicholas Syrett’s book persuasively demonstrates, the history of marriage among American minors offers a lens through which to understand many broader issues--the differences between generations of Americans; shifting notions of childhood and child protection; the way children’s lives are shaped by race, class, and gender; and fears of unrestrained sexuality outside of marriage, especially for unmarried teenage girls.  Syrett is a lively writer, and his book deserves a wide audience."--Leslie Paris, University of British Columbia