Women were not always allowed the opportunities we enjoy now, despite still being a long way from having equality. At one time women were no more than chattel or property of a man, whether her husband, her father, her brother or some other male relation.
It was illegal at one time in our country to teach a woman to read, do arithmetic or the sciences, both in the belief at the time that a woman had no capacity for learning these things and mistaken beliefs about her emotional capacity to properly use them.
Few things have changed in one sense. Women today are still not considered the same level and value of human being that any man enjoys within laws, within policy decisions, within social ideologies and religious ideologies, and within the contexts and valuations our society has given to women.
However, in light of our first major political party nomination of a woman candidate for President of the United States, I’ve been thinking about women in light of laws we’ve endured that were unfair, biased, misogynistic, propping up inequality, disrespect for women and their rights, slavery of women and laws that have kept it that way.
Many people know when women “got the vote” in 1919. But, when did women get the right to own property? And, how many states still did not allow women to own property well into the 2960’s and 70’s?
Certain aspects of coverture (mainly concerned with preventing a wife from unilaterally incurring major financial obligations for which her husband would be liable) survived as late as the 1960s in some states of the United States.
These laws said that married women were not allowed to own property on their own and reflected back to an earlier time, when the woman’s rights to enter into contracts, earn money, write a will, own property, sell property or have any say in it, were given to her husband upon marrying him.
From wikipedia –
The principle of coverture was described in William Blackstone‘s Commentaries on the Laws of England in the late 18th century:
By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called in our law-French a feme-covert; is said to be covert-baron, or under the protection and influence of her husband, her baron, or lord; and her condition during her marriage is called her coverture. Upon this principle, of a union of person in husband and wife, depend almost all the legal rights, duties, and disabilities, that either of them acquire by the marriage. I speak not at present of the rights of property, but of such as are merely personal. For this reason, a man cannot grant any thing to his wife, or enter into covenant with her: for the grant would be to suppose her separate existence; and to covenant with her, would be only to covenant with himself: and therefore it is also generally true, that all compacts made between husband and wife, when single, are voided by the intermarriage.
A feme sole had the right to own property and make contracts in her own name, while a feme covert was not recognized as having legal rights and obligations distinct from those of her husband in most respects. Instead, through marriage a woman’s existence was incorporated into that of her husband, so that she had very few recognized individual rights of her own. As it has been pithily expressed, husband and wife were one person as far as the law was concerned, and that person was the husband.
Laws often change before society’s ideas generally change at times and remnants of this thinking is still found today in many places in the United States, from business policies to religious doctrines.
In 1966, the U.S. Supreme Court said “the institution of coverture is … obsolete” even while acknowledging coverture’s existence in 1–11 states. In a separate opinion in the same case, Hugo Black and two others of the nine justices[i] said the “fiction that the husband and wife are one… in reality … mean[ing] that though the husband and wife are one, the one is the husband….[,] rested on … a … notion that a married woman, being a female, is without capacity to make her own contracts and do her own business”, a notion that Black “had supposed is … completely discredited”. Black described modern (as of 1966) coverture as an “archaic remnant of a primitive caste system”.[j]
So, although laws to allow women to own property had been changing since 1839 onward, with the Married Women’s Property Act, it still didn’t change these disparities until after the 1966 ruling by the Supreme Court within the laws of many states.
But how much did that matter, when women weren’t allowed by banks and in some states, by laws – to have her own bank account, her own money, her own decision-making capacity irespective of her family’s wishes (or husband’s)? A woman could not effectively enter into contracts and have a fair negotiating position as a man would. Some of that is still true today.
In July, the Seneca Falls Convention, the first women’s rightsconvention, approved a “Declaration of Sentiments” authored by Elizabeth Cady Stanton that listed among the “injuries and usurpations on the part of man toward woman”:
He has made her, if married, in the eye of the law, civilly dead.
He has taken from her all right in property, even to the wages she earns.
He has so framed the laws of divorce, as to what shall be the proper causes of divorce, in case of separation, to whom the guardianship of the children shall be given; as to be wholly regardless of the happiness of the women—the law, in all cases, going upon a false supposition of the supremacy of a man, and giving all power into his hands. The movement to expand the property rights of married women did not go unchallenged. Virginia debated and rejected such legislation in the 1840s. In 1849, the Tennessee legislature stated, in one historian’s account, “that married women lack independent souls and thus should not be allowed to own property.” New York expanded its statute in 1860, with the Married Women’s Earnings Act. It then repealed parts of its legislation in 1862, eliminating a married woman’s right to guardianship of her children and the right of a widow to manage her late husband’s estate.
This page on wikipedia has a lot of info too –
Today, remnants of this thinking endures in religion, in right wing political views and in social ideologies that continue to demand a value of something less for any woman’s life, for her time, for her efforts, for her contributions, for her work, for her talents, for her ideas, for her individual power and decision making.
The antiquated and damaging belief systems that insist on inequality for women happens from every front and very nearly every influencing environment. These pressure anyone to believe women don’t have any right to equality and respect – from home and family reiterating those views, to church pulpits and church affiliated magazines and publications, to policy makers and politicians with party affiliations who still believe women should not be allowed to have the same rights and value as men, to extreme ideologies that are affecting everyone where any dialogue can occur from radio shows to newspaper articles and online presentations of them.
Any woman or girl who believes or have believed something else – that women are equal and deserve equal rights, have been treated to varying degrees of shunning, humiliation, discrediting, demeaning, private and public shaming, ridicule, cruel and vicious attacks, character attacks, family shunning, church and religious abandonment, emotional and physical abandonment by families and communities, public shaming and ridicule by churches, preachers, pundits and politicians alike, along with extraordinary disenfranchisement and exclusion from economic, financially empowering, community and social opportunities.
If the millions upon millions of dollars, hours of work, public information access time and efforts had been spent ON the women and girls of America instead of the above list of detrimental tactics from public humiliation and shaming to verbal abuse and exclusion (among other things), think of where our national gross domestic product and competitiveness in the world would be today. How many lives would’ve been made better rather than plunging so many women and children in America into a third world economic impoverishment and horrors.