When Did Women Get the Right to Own Property?

The history of women’s property rights took years of struggle before decrees were passed. Before laws were enacted, women in the United States had very few ownership rights.

In Colonial Times

When the settlers came to the New World they adapted a lot of the laws from England. The law in the British Empire stated that the woman’s father held control of all her belongings. If she got married, ownership and rights would be transferred to her husband. This wasn’t just the rule in England. It was also used in France, Spain and other countries.

However, the colonists’ outlook started to change and little by little privileges were given to women. The history of women’s property rights began with passages of laws in the late 1600s.

Property Laws for Women

The first of these was passed in Maryland in 1674. The law stated before a man could sell a woman’s belongings, she had to be interviewed by the judge. The objective was to ensure she approved of the sale. In 1771 a law called Act to Confirm Certain Conveyances and Directing the Manner of Proving Deeds to Be Recorded was passed.

Prior to selling or transferring ownership of her property, a man had to have his wife’s signature on the document. The law also said that a judge had to speak with the woman to confirm her approval. This was vital to the history of women’s property rights.

In 1809, a measure was passed in Connecticut permitting women to create and execute wills. The succeeding years saw prenuptial agreements come into being. It allowed women to let someone else oversee their properties. In Mississippi a law was passed in 1839 allowing a woman to exercise control over slaves.

The Married Women’s Property Act

One of the landmark acts for women in the US, it provided for more privileges than ever before. The act was passed in 1848 in New York. It was copied in other states. Led by Elizabeth Stanton, Paulina Davis and Ernestine Rose, it was hailed as a triumph for females in America. In 1860 the law was expanded even more. This act is regarded as one of the most significant in the history of women’s property rights.

Contents of the Law

The law stated that even if she were to marry, a woman doesn’t lose her right to her properties. Her husband can’t use it to pay off his debts. She alone had the right to dispose of it. In addition, she would get sole control of the profits of her properties if she decides to sell.

There were also provisions that allowed the woman to accept gifts and other items from other people and maintain control over it. She was also allowed to use whatever legal means available to profit.

Eventually the laws spread throughout the whole country. In no uncertain terms did it encourage women across the country to demand equal rights. The history of women’s property rights gave them the strength to seek equal protection and privileges.

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