Reconstructing the Household

Families, Sex, and the Law in the Nineteenth-Century South

By Peter W. Bardaglio

382 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 8 tables, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-4712-1
    Published: March 1998
  • eBook ISBN: 978-0-8078-6021-2
    Published: November 2000

Studies in Legal History

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Awards & distinctions

1996 James A. Rawley Prize, Organization of American Historians

In Reconstructing the Household, Peter Bardaglio examines the connections between race, gender, sexuality, and the law in the nineteenth-century South. He focuses on miscegenation, rape, incest, child custody, and adoption laws to show how southerners struggled with the conflicts and stresses that surfaced within their own households and in the larger society during the Civil War era. Based on literary as well as legal sources, Bardaglio's analysis reveals how legal contests involving African Americans, women, children, and the poor led to a rethinking of families, sexuality, and the social order. Before the Civil War, a distinctive variation of republicanism, based primarily on hierarchy and dependence, characterized southern domestic relations. This organic ideal of the household and its power structure differed significantly from domestic law in the North, which tended to emphasize individual rights and contractual obligations. The defeat of the Confederacy, emancipation, and economic change transformed family law and the governance of sexuality in the South and allowed an unprecedented intrusion of the state into private life. But Bardaglio argues that despite these profound social changes, a preoccupation with traditional notions of gender and race continued to shape southern legal attitudes.

About the Author

Peter W. Bardaglio is associate professor of history at Goucher College in Baltimore, Maryland.
For more information about Peter W. Bardaglio, visit the Author Page.


"Bardaglio has succeeded in writing a book that asks important questions, poses thoughtful answers, and raises a host of issues for future researchers to explore. This book will join a handful of others as indispensable to the study of southern regionalism and the legal history of the American family."--Journal of Interdisciplinary History

"Should establish a model for future studies of the southern household."--Southern Quarterly

"[A] readable and rewarding book."--Journal of American History

"An ambitious and provocative book. . . one that offers fresh ways of thinking about the South's legal system and culture, the decision for secession, the larger implications of Reconstruction, the roots of southern Progressivism, and the enduring differences between the South and the North."--Choice

"[Bardaglio] has given coherence and heft to previously scattered facts and interpretations and produced a work that should be required reading among historians of the family, sexuality, and the South."--Journal of the History of Sexuality

"With its exceptional command of the primary sources and extraordinary facility with the relevant secondary literature, Peter W. Bardaglio's Reconstructing the Household is a signal contribution to legal history, the history of the family, and the study of southern race relations."--Journal of Social History