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

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-4555-1
    Published: August 2018
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-4896-3
    Published: September 2016
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-2954-4
    Published: September 2016
  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-1-4696-2953-7
    Published: October 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​.
For more information about Nicholas L. Syrett, visit the Author Page.


“Taps into an enormously important but surprisingly overlooked aspect of the history of American marriage: the (gendered) history of marriages to minors.”--Journal of American History

“The level of nuance in the book's augmentation is astonishing, and it makes the book highly valuable beyond the history of childhood and youth.”--Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth

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

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

“Calls on us to search for better ways to protect children from child marriage, abusive parents, and a host of other domestic dangers.".”--Journal of the History of Sexuality

“Masterfully fills a void in the study of gender relations and childhood in the United States. Syrett brings the discussion of childhood well out of New England, illuminating important regional, ethnic, and racial variations in the development of children’s rights—and ones that have had lasting consequences.”--Journal of the Early Republic