Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


American Studies


Karin A. Wulf


This dissertation, "Uniting Interests: Money, Property, and Marriage in America, 1750-1860," examines how marriage was an essential economic transaction that responded to the development of capitalism in early America. Drawing on scholarship on the history of economic development, household organization, law, and gender, I argue that families actively distributed resources at marriage as part of larger wealth management strategies that were sensitive to regional and national economic growth. I focus particularly on women's property holding and how families deployed the legal protection of women's property as bulwarks against financial disaster. This project restores the family and women to the narrative of capitalistic development, breaking down the fictive divide between public and private economies. Early chapters explore how families planned for wealth distribution when children married and the strategies they employed to attract financially suitable partners. Subsequent chapters explore how some couples negotiated or rejected protection for married women's property, how individuals mobilized kinship networks created by marriage to their advantage, and the balance related families struck between financial assistance and self-interest. The final chapters explore how property was central to families' responses to married women's distress and to suspicions of female infidelity. In so doing, I demonstrate that the economic functions of marriage fundamentally shaped American families and relationships throughout the eighteenth and well into the nineteenth century. Despite regional differences in social and economic development, the legal structure of marriage was widely shared and remarkably durable. I argue that even progressive developments in marriage law and practice were often motivated more by the desire for financial security than by concerns for female independence. More broadly, this project reveals how sexual inequality in early American was in large part created and maintained through the laws and practices of marriage.



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