Women and the Law of Courtship in Eighteenth-Century America

Ruth H. Bloch

in Gender and Morality in Anglo-American Culture, 1650-1800

Published by University of California Press

Published in print October 2003 | ISBN: 9780520234055
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520936478 | DOI:
Women and the Law of Courtship in Eighteenth-Century America

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This chapter discusses how the legal regulation of marriage shifted from seventeenth-century legislative action to an increased reliance upon civil suits in the eighteenth century. It argues that the long-term shift to the civil litigation of disputes over courtship enabled early American courts rapidly to apply to decisions about cases increasingly sympathetic popular attitudes toward innocent women wronged by deceitful men. Data shows that the state had withdrawn from the regulation of courtship and marriage would ignore the civil side of the law. Cases involving accusations of seduction and breach of promise were being brought to colonial courts already in the mid seventeenth century and continued to be litigated against into the nineteenth century. It is clear that the definitions of masculinity and femininity were undergoing a historical change in eighteenth-century American civil courts and in other cultural venues, prefiguring “Victorian” morality long before Victoria mounted her throne.

Keywords: legal regulation; marriage; eighteenth century; American civil courts; civil litigation; courtship; women; masculinity; femininity

Chapter.  10095 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas

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