DeVane Lectures to Examine Marriage Across Two Centuries

The changing views and meanings of marriage in the United States from the 1770s to the 1970s will be explored in the next series of DeVane Lectures, which will be given this semester by Nancy F. Cott, the Woodward Professor of History and American Studies.

The series of weekly talks beginning Jan. 21 is titled “Marriage: Thought, Practice and Politics over Two Centuries in the U.S.” Offered to students for course credit, the lectures are also open to the public free of charge. The lectures will consider marriage as a private contract, a sanctioned legal institution and a metaphor for union. The course will span family history, intellectual history and political history, according to Cott.

“The lectures intend to illuminate the social and political aspects of marriage over the past two centuries,” Cott explains. “Most people may take it for granted that the formal legal institution of marriage, entered into by individual consent but prescribed and regulated closely by the state, is traditional’ and therefore almost eternal. But within the last 20 years, it has become possible to see the temporal boundedness of this ‘traditional’ marriage, actually in effect for most of the population only for a definable period of time, from the 18th to the 20th century. What the legal scholar Mary Anne Glendon has called ‘the withering away of marriage’ since 1965, owing to frequency of divorce and to competition from informal cohabitation, gives rise to questions about the ways marriage has served the social order as well as individual participants.”

In her lectures, Professor Cott will explore such topics as the role of marriage in the formation of gender, forms of protest against and alternatives to state-sanctioned marriage, the analogy between slavery and marriage, cross-racial marriages, the rise of “companionate” marriage in social scientific thought in the 1930s, and the transformation of marital expectations since 1965. Unless otherwise indicated, all lectures will take place 4-5:50 p.m. on Wednesdays in the lecture hall of the Yale University Art Gallery (enter on High St.)

The following topics are scheduled:

Jan. 21 – “Marriage and the Republic in the Era of the American Revolution.”

Jan. 28 – “Marriage and Slavery: Two Domestic Institutions.”

Feb. 4 – “Utopian, Communitarian, and Free Love Alternatives in the Antebellum Era.”

Feb. 11 – “The Place of Marriage in Woman’s Rights Activism in the 19th Century.”

Feb. 18 – “The Divided and Reconstructed Union: Models and Metaphors of Marriage after the Civil War.”

March 4 – “Across the Color Line: Public Policies toward Cross-Racial Marriage.”

March 25 – “Immigration and the American Way of Marriage.”

March 31 (Tuesday) – “Marriage in the Modern Manner: the 1920s.”

April 8 – “Marital Roles and Economic Crisis: Provider and Consumer during the Depression.”

April 15 – “Haven in a Heartless World: the Postwar Family.”

April 22 – “Marriage Scorned and Reborn: Getting Past the 1970s.”

The DeVane Lectures were established in 1969 as part of the DeVane Professorship, a position created in honor of William Clyde DeVane, dean of Yale College 1939-63. Cott was selected for the honor this academic year. As described in Yale College Programs of Study, the professorship “provides an opportunity for a scholar to work beyond the boundaries of a particular specialty or department and to transmit the excitement of that study to colleagues and students in other fields.” The lecture series is offered jointly by the history and American studies departments.

Share this with Facebook Share this with Twitter Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this

Media Contact

Gila Reinstein:, 203-432-1325