Associate 2004-05

Elizabeth H Pleck



Cohabitation and common-law marriage were common ways for couples to live together in colonial and nineteenth-century America. These informal customs, however, conflicted with two other important priorities encoded in American family law: the desire to legislate morality, and the desire to prohibit interracial coupling and interracial marriage. Beginning in the 1960s, legal cases and tenure cases at various universities began to challenge the use of the law to legislate morality and to enforce ideas of racial superiority. The growth in public awareness and acknowledgment of cohabitation since the 1960s is part of a long-term sexual revolution and the trend toward the declining significance of marriage as a public institution. Cohabitation has become more widespread in the dominant culture, and has developed as a parallel institution to marriage.

The subject of cohabitation in contemporary America has been studied largely by sociologists and demographers. During her Center appointment, Professor Pleck will take a different approach, compiling a full history of anticohabitation statutes and the major legal cases that challenged these statutes; documenting individual actors and the punishments they suffered for bringing cohabitation to public light; and analyzing how the cultural definition of cohabitation has changed from “sin” to an alternative and then acceptable style of living. She plans to write a book-length manuscript on the subject.