ARTICLE: Married Women's Property Law: 1800-1850. * Skip over navigation
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Copyright (c) 1983 Georgetown Law Journal
Georgetown Law Journal

ARTICLE: Married Women's Property Law: 1800-1850. *

* 1983 by Richard H. Chused, Washington, D.C.

June, 1983

71 Geo. L.J. 1359





1848 is commonly thought of as the year the women's rights movement began. That year witnessed both the Seneca Falls Convention and the adoption of the well-known New York married women's act. The dearth of literature on women's law in the 1800-1850 period 1 has made it all too easy for the legal community and the modern feminist movement to label 1848 as the pivotal year. The confluence of events in 1848 has created a mythology that the married women's acts adopted in the 1840's were a frontal attack on both the institution of coverture established by the common law and the prevailing cultural view of women as repositories of domestic virtue. Because a public women's movement and married women's legislation appeared in the same decade, it is thought that women petitioning for change must have "caused" the state legislatures to act. As with many areas of women's history, such speculation may be flawed.

This article takes a fresh look at the development of married women's property acts by making use of three different sets of materials: Archival records, case law and legislative sources, and recent historical literature. Courthouses and archives have records of potentially enormous importance. Property ownership and trends in the disposal of property should reveal a great deal about the pressures leading to the adoption of married women's property acts. My archival work was originally structured to establish an agenda for further research rather than to be a comprehensive study, but this tentative look produced so ...
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