An examination of how the concept of “family” has been transformed over the last three centuries in the U.S., from its function as primary social unit to today’s still-evolving model.
Based on a wide reading of letters, diaries and other contemporary documents, Mintz, an historian, and Kellogg, an anthropologist, examine the changing definition of “family” in the United States over the course of the last three centuries, beginning with the modified European model of the earliest settlers. From there they survey the changes in the families of whites (working class, immigrants, and middle class) and blacks (slave and free) since the Colonial years, and identify four deep changes in family structure and ideology: the democratic family, the companionate family, the family of the 1950s, and lastly, the family of the '80s, vulnerable to societal changes but still holding together.
American family structure has changed radically in the 300 years since patriarchal Puritan days, when it was the basic political, religious and educational unit of state and community, maintain Mintz, University of Houston associate professor of history, and Kellogg, his wife, who teaches anthropology, also at Houston. The authors vividly evoke a diversity of family patterns and experiences among racial and ethnic groups, including Afro-American slave kinship networks. They discuss how changes wrought in working-class families by the agricultural and industrial revolutions, the Great Depression and WW II affected family roles and relationships. Emerging from the relative stability of the 1950s and the largely mythical ideal of the nuclear family, today's aging, individual-oriented society, transformed by a sexual revolution, considers the family in whatever formcohabitation, single-parent households, "blended'' families from several marriages, among othersas a means of personal fulfillment for both partners, with public institutions taking over many of its traditional roles. Illustrations.