Abstract: Numerous state-prescribed privileges as well as responsibilities differentiate married couples from other individuals in the United States. At present, when the adult population is divided about half and half between these two categories, differences in marital status tend to mirror other inequalities in American society. Professor Cott’s talk will offer historical perspective on the public stature and political significance of marriage in the United States, and aim to reassess the moral basis and the justice of state-endowed marital advantages as these have evolved over time. In 1778 John Adams firmly believed that “the foundations of national morality must be laid in private families.” Should that principle obtain today?
Nancy F. Cott is the Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History at Harvard University, and currently the elected president of the Organization of American Historians. Her writings range widely over issues concerning women, gender, feminism, marriage and citizenship in U.S. history, and include The Bonds of Womanhood: 'Woman's Sphere' in New England, 1780-1835 (1977); The Grounding of Modern Feminism (1987); and Public Vows: A History of Marriage and the Nation (2000).
Most of Cott's work in 19th and 20th century U.S. history focuses on gender questions. Her interests also include social movements, political culture, law, and citizenship. Her current project concerns Americans who came of age in the 1920s and shaped their lives internationally.
Since writing Public Vows, on the history of marriage as a public institution in the U.S., Professor Cott has participated in writing historians' amici briefs on the same-sex marriage question in several states, including challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and she testified as an expert witness in the federal case Perry v. Schwarzenegger against Proposition 8 in California.