Sunday, March 7, 2010

Married Women Property Laws

I decided that since March is Women's History Month, I would do some research about when NYS decided that women had rights to property. Property rights include the legal rights to acquire, own, sell and transfer property, collect and keep rents, keep one’s wages, make contracts and bring lawsuits. In history, a woman's property has often, but not always, been under the control of her father or, if she was married, her husband.
In colonial times, law generally followed that of the mother country, England (or in some parts of what later became the United States, France or Spain). In the early years of the United States, following British law, women's property was under control of their husbands, with states gradually giving women limited property rights. By 1900 every state had given married women substantial control over their property.

Here are some laws of New York State:

New York, 1771: Act to Confirm Certain Conveyances and Directing the Manner of Proving Deeds to Be Recorded: this required a married man to have his wife's signature on any deed to her property before he sold or transferred it, and required that a judge meet privately with the wife to confirm her approval.

New York, 1848: Married Woman's Property Act: this was a more extensive expansion of property rights of married women, used as a model for many other states 1848-1895.

New York, 1860: Act Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Husband and Wife: expanded married women's property rights.

I think it is important to see the text of the 1848 New York Statute known as the Married Women's Property Act, as amended in 1849, as it reads in full:
§1. The real property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, shall not be subject to the sole disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.
§2. The real and personal property, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, of any female now married, shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband; but shall be her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female, except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted.
§3. Any married female may take by inheritance, or by gift, grant, devise, or bequest, from any person other than her husband, and hold to her sole and separate use, and convey and devise real and personal property, and any interest or estate therein, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, in the same manner and with like effect as if she were unmarried, and the same shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband nor be liable for his debts.

This law may seem like it would not be necessary to someone in the 21st century, but reading it will give an indication of just how far it has really been for women from 1848 to 2010.


Roger A. Post said...

Sandie, I coincidentally stumbled across a newspaper story on a League of Women Voters meeting in Auburn in 1930 while researching Miss Grace Belle Pease of the Town of Fleming. One of the topics under discussion was the effort to allow women to serve as jurors in New York State. It seems this right for women was delayed well beyond those for property and even the right to vote. An excerpt from the article follows.

"Voters League Discusses Policewomen, Probation, Woman Juror Bill, Etc. The League of Women Voters met Monday afternoon at the home of Mrs. Charles A. Wright, 157 E. Genesee Street where the chief topics under discussion were Policewomen, Probation and the Celebration of the Suffrage Amendment. . . . On Woman Juror Bill. A lively and interesting report of the Woman Juror bill hearing in Albany on February 27, was given by Miss Belle Pease who served as delegate from the Cayuga County League. An imposing pile of petitions was presented and such able speakers as Lieutenant-Governor Lehman, Senator Mastick, Miss Gail Laughlin, attorney from Maine and Mrs. Rhoda Fox Graves, woman member of the assembly were heard. The arguments were skillfully and convincingly presented, declared Miss Pease, and it would seem that with women now successfully serving on juries in 21 states, this right of citizenship in the progressive State of New York cannot long be denied, she added. . . ."
-- The Auburn Citizen, Auburn, Cayuga Co., NY, Tuesday, 11 March 1930

Sandie Stoker Gilliland said...

Thanks for sharing such an interesting article, Roger. Miss Pease sounds like a determined woman!