Married Women Couldn't Own Money in the 1800s
Fact

It used to be illegal for Married women to own or make money in England and America.

Did Women Used to Not be Able to Own Money or Property?

Before the Married Women’s Property Acts of the 1800s, a married woman’s money (and sometimes property) was automatically the property of her husband in America and England.

What are the Married Women’s Property Acts?

The Married Women’s Property Acts are a series of laws, passed mostly in the 1800’s and notably in America and England, that gave married women more rights in regard to real and personal property.

Before these laws, married women forfeited many rights to their husbands upon marriage, including the right to own property, to own money, or to make money.

The laws differed by state or country, for example: in England women could own property, but not own money or own revenue from the property.

This video talks about the history of Married Women’s Property Acts in America and voting rights.

The History of the Married Women’s Property Acts in America

A number of state-based Married Women’s Property Acts were passed in the U.S. from 1809 – 1850s. Notable Acts included the first in 1809 in Connecticut which allowed married women to write wills, and a series of state based acts that started in Mississippi during 1839.[1]

The Acts took many twists and turns on a state-by-state basis, by the end of the Civil War in 1865, 29 states had passed some version of a Married Women’s Property Act. States continued to work piecemeal to enact similar legislation throughout the rest of the 1800s, with 1/3rd of U.S. states still not allowing women to control their earnings as of 1887.[3]

The History of the Married Women’s Property Acts in England

In England the process began with the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870, and went through revised versions until 1893. It was applied to England, Wales, and Northern Ireland in 1922. In England married women could own property, but not money before the Act. Later Property Acts were passed other places including Australia.[2]



Conclusion

As hard as it is to imagine today, at one time married women could not own property or make money. It took over 100 years of lobbying during the 1800’s for this to change.


References

  1. Married Women’s Property Laws“. Memory.loc.gov. Retrieved Oct 10, 2015.
  2. Married Women’s Property Act“. Wikipedia.org. Retrieved Oct 10, 2015.
  3. Warren, Joyce W. (2005). Women, Money, and the Law: Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Gender, and the Courts. University of Iowa Press. pp. 51–3. (found on Married Women’s Property Act.)


"Married Women Couldn’t Own Money in the 1800s" is tagged with: Equality, Feminism, Money, United States of America


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Ranece Caldwell on

But why couldn’t women own their own properties?

Thomas DeMichele
Thomas DeMichele on

The gist of why women couldn’t own property was 1. Chauvinism in a patriarchal society 2. It is a matter of divorce and dowery (the general logic being how estates are divided up in marriage and divorce).

The exact specifics different by era, state, law, nation, etc. Marriage, estate laws, and laws pertaining to women owning property and other assets is rather complicated. Perhaps i’ll follow up with more details. Thanks for the comment!

Pam Eldridge on
Supports this as a Fact.

Under the law once a woman married her legal identity was erased. She became her husband’s property and anything she owned, unless protected by a trust set up BEFORE marriage, also became her husband’s property. Under British law she couldn’t make a will without her husband’s consent and he could revoke his consent at any time until probate had been granted. It was probably the same in the US, but I couldn’t swear to that.
A married woman had no rights legally at all. If she left her husband he would retain everything including their children and had an absolute legal right to same.
Unmarried women, including widows, could own property, make wills and were seen as legal entities. (Except they couldn’t vote.)
This changes somewhat under the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882.
My advice? Don’t take our rights for granted!

Dorian Mattochton on
Doesn't beleive this myth.

Umm, ever heard of Queen Elizabeth I or Mary Wueen of Scots?? Or were they simply myths and propaganda pumped out courtesy of patriarchy, inc??

Erin Georgen on

Those would be exceptions to the rule of course. The very wealthy were typically the ones exceptions applied to, and certainly rules differed by country over the years. The general concept here is that, generally, in the U.S. and Britain, married women had restrictions on the ownership of money and property.

Check out this page: //www.elizabethi.org/contents/women/

Pam Eldridge on
Supports this as a Fact.

Sorry, Dorian. Married women in Britain could not own property until 1870, unless it was secured to them in a trust.You are correct that Elizabeth I and Mary, Queen of Scots existed and reigned. So did Elizabeth’s sister, Mary Tudor for that matter. However royalty gets to do things differently. (Probably part of the reason Elizabeth did not marry was that she did not wish to cede power to a husband.) Their reigns had absolutely no effect on the general law as regards women’s property. Do some research and find out. Many countries had what is known as the Salic Law which blocked women from inheriting the throne. Queen Victoria is a good example of that. She could inherit the throne of Great Britain, but NOT the Electorship of Hanover as her uncle, grandfather and great grandfather had been. Because she was a woman.
The first Married Women’s Property Act in Britain was passed in 1870. It was extended in 1882. Look it up if you don’t believe me (in fact you should always do your own careful research) and do a search on Caroline Norton whose disastrous marital situation helped to kick start change.