Buying a Bride

An Engaging History of Mail-Order Matches

320 pages

40 halftones

June, 2016

ISBN: 9780814771815



Add to Cart Available: 5/6/2016

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Marcia A. Zug is Associate Professor of Law at the University of South Carolina.

All books by Marcia A. Zug

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.  


  • "This provocative history of mail-order marriages challenges stereotypes about women who leave home to wed strangers. Arguing that our view of the practice is overly influenced by cases of trafficking, Zug shows us women who have seen it as an opportunity."

    The New Yorker

  • "[S]cholars have tended to view the mail-order marriages of the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries through the lens of today’s politics is a persuasive one. It is ironic perhaps, that it has taken a lawyer to remind historians about the dangers of viewing the past as if it were the present, simply dressed in funny clothes.”

    Times Literary Supplement

  • “Summing Up: Recommended. All levels/libraries.”

    Choice Connect

  • "Zug upends prevailing views of 'mail-order' marriages as exploitative, instead finding that women traded oppressive conditions at home for liberating opportunities abroad...[H]er well-researched...and conversationally written book will prove edifying and entertaining to anyone interested in North American or women's history, or in understanding the modern, mail-order bride industry against a richly detailed historical backdrop."

    The Historian

  • "[Buying a Bride] focuses on an area that most of us do not stop to explore in greater depth, and that exploration leads one to see the more nuanced faces of the issues."

    Manhattan Book Review

  • "Eye-opening and entertaining."

    Foreword Reviews

  • “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, University of Toronto Scarborough

  • "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, Carole & Hanan Sibel Research Professor of Law, University of Maryland

  • "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, UC Davis School of Law