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'Lots of them did that': desertion, bigamy, and marital fluidity in late-nineteenth-century America.

Abstract: Beverly Schwartzberg, "'Lots of Them Did That': Desertion, Bigamy, and Marital Fluidity in Late-Nineteenth-Century America"

Although marriage was invested with significant personal, ideological, economic, legal, and political importance in late-nineteenth-century America, its endings and beginnings could be more fluid than the law suggested. This study of "contesting widow" applications, where two wives applied for a single soldier's pension, in Civil War pension files demonstrates these fluid marriage patterns among working-class couples. Some couples separated, and other individuals abandoned or deserted spouses. Short-term temporary separations sometimes lasted lifetimes. Many times the husbands and wives from these informal divorces married others, becoming bigamists. Their bigamous remarriages, however, showed fundamental respect for the institution of marriage. The article demonstrates and illustrates the common use of alias names, the importance of geographical mobility, the practice of informal divorce and separation, the uses of deception, common understandings and uses of family law, the prevalence of bigamy and serial marriage among men and women, and the economic circumstances of abandoned wives. Pension records help reveal significant marital histories that are otherwise hidden from view.
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Publication:Journal of Social History
Article Type:Author Abstract
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 22, 2004
Words:179
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