We interviewed author and law professor Marcia Zug about her book available January 9, 2024, You’ll Do: A History of Marrying for Reasons Other Than Love.
What prompted you to write this book?
My great aunt Rosie left New York City and traveled to Europe in the 1930s to marry a Jewish man who had no other way to get to safety. Asylum law or immigration law should have helped him, but those avenues were blocked at that crucial time. Marrying an American was the only way he could get the life-saving benefit of US citizenship. This family history was the early spark for my interest in how marriage can appear as an individualized solution to larger societal problems.
Previously, I wrote about mail-order brides (Buying a Bride: An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches). That’s one specific type of instrumental marriage, or marriage for a purpose other than uniting two people in love. In You’ll Do, I dig into several other reasons why people used to, and sometimes still do, marry aside from love.
In the book, what are some reasons people marry, other than love?
Marrying for money takes up two chapters: one chapter for historical views and another on how this still happens today. But I don’t blame so-called gold-diggers. Often the non-moneyed partner is more vulnerable than voracious.
Other reasons include government benefits and parenthood rights. Political power can also be a significant benefit of marriage. Widows of politicians were among the first women to hold elected office.
There are also quirks of the law, particularly in the past, where certain acts may have constituted a crime when done by unmarried people, but not a crime if the participants were married. This led to situations where a judge could give a defendant a stark choice: go to jail or get married. Melissa Murray’s article Marriage as Punishment was groundbreaking work on this concept.
What resources did you rely on in your research process?
Some of the cases I discuss in the book are the same cases I teach in my law courses.
I also looked for accounts of sensational trials. I used Chronicling America to search a lot of US newspapers. I also used history books. Then I did legal research, mostly on Westlaw, as well as the legal analysis I’m trained to do, to delve deeper into the legal aspects of those trials.
Who are the readers who will benefit from this book?
You don’t need a law degree for this book. It will appeal to anyone who is interested in marriage, whether that means getting married or observing the social phenomenon as part of women’s history.
And to be honest, sometimes I pictured my mom as I was writing. She’s an educated woman who is interested in many things.
Marcia A. Zug, You’ll Do: A History of Marrying for Reasons Other Than Love (2024).