W ith the help of contemporary historians’ analysis and hindsight, we now know that the well-propagated metaphoric promise made by the institution of marriage at the mid-twentieth-century mark to individual participants embarking on adult life-its promise to deliver some measure of meaning, comfort, and financial security-was many times honored only in the breach.1 Institutional marriage broke its promises to its participants more often than was acknowledged at the time, and more often than our current nostalgic embrace of the simplicity and traditionalism of that era cares to notice. In Professor Stephanie Coontz’s provocative turn of phrase, this image of mid-century, traditional marriage, held as an ideal then, and held by some as an idealized counterpoint to today’s uncertainties now, is nothing more than a rose-colored picture of “the way we never were.” In her authoritative history of the era by that title, Coontz argues that for many married people of the post-world wars generation, marriage did not constitute a safe financial or emotional haven against hardship, or enrich the lives of those who participated in its strictures.2 Marriage, at mid-century, Professor Coontz argues, was in fact a poor substitute for the communitarian safety net that to a considerable extent it displaced.3 For poor people especially, as individuals came to rely on marriage, rather than community, to meet their needs, those individuals became poorer, and more isolated, and in many ways more vulnerable.4 Marriage did not, Coontz argues, guard the impoverished individual against risk or poverty. Oftentimes it exacerbated it.