Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Zug on Mail-Order Marriage

Just out with NYU Press is Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches by Marcia A. Zug (University of South Carolina School of Law). From the publisher: 
There have always been mail-order brides in America--but we haven't always thought about them in the same ways. In Buying a Bride, Marcia A. Zug starts with the so-called "Tobacco Wives" of the Jamestown colony and moves all the way forward to today's modern same-sex mail-order grooms to explore the advantages and disadvantages of mail-order marriage. It's a history of deception, physical abuse, and failed unions. It's also the story of how mail-order marriage can offer women surprising and empowering opportunities. 
Drawing on a forgotten trove of colorful mail-order marriage court cases, Zug explores the many troubling legal issues that arise in mail-order marriage: domestic abuse and murder, breach of contract, fraud (especially relating to immigration), and human trafficking and prostitution. She tells the story of how mail-order marriage lost the benign reputation it enjoyed in the Civil War era to become more and more reviled over time, and she argues compellingly that it does not entirely deserve its current reputation. While it is a common misperception that women turn to mail-order marriage as a desperate last resort, most mail-order brides are enticed rather than coerced. Since the first mail-order brides arrived on American shores in 1619, mail-order marriage has enabled women to improve both their marital prospects and their legal, political, and social freedoms. Buying a Bride uncovers this history and shows us how mail-order marriage empowers women and should be protected and even encouraged.

A few blurbs: 

  • "Buying a Bride is a history book like few others, a carefully-documented critical analysis of mail-order marriages from the days of the Jamestown colony to modern times. . . . Zug persuasively and carefully demonstrates how throughout American history, conceptions of larger national imperatives, namely settlement of the frontier, marriage, and race deeply influenced American society's views of mail order brides. The changes have resulted in the radical transformation of the generally positive public opinion of such marital arrangements before the Civil War and increasingly negative views of the practice through to today. . . . From a feminist perspective, Zug concludes that, despite significant risks, mail-order marriages are typically beneficial and even liberating for women. Buying a Bride offers fresh new insights to anyone interested in love and marriage, race and immigration, and the fundamental transformation of American social life over the last 300 years." -Kevin R. Johnson 
    "A lively and meticulously researched review mail-order brides’s varied experiences at different times and places.  Zug’s compelling case for mail-order feminism shows the need for a more nuanced view of these women as agents rather than the two-dimensional view of them as helpless victims.  Students will greatly enrich their understandings of marriage, these women, and the colonization of North America by reading Buying a Bride." -Martha Ertman 
    “Mail-order brides have been welcomed, celebrated, stigmatized, and feared. With its long-term historical perspective, this important book uncovers the origins of changing public opinion while bringing into focus the autonomy that many women have sought and some women have achieved through migration and marriage.”   -Donna R. Gabaccia
    You can read more about it here.