Married Women's Property Act, New York State

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MARRIED WOMEN'S PROPERTY ACT, NEW YORK STATE. In the mid-nineteenth century, various states adopted statutes intended to diminish the economic consequences of the common law idea of coverture. In general, the common law doctrine required that the property of a married woman went to her husband. English law responded by permitting the creation by the father of a trust—a separate estate at equity—of which his daughter (about to become a married woman) would be the beneficiary. Trustees named by the father controlled and managed the property for the benefit of the daughter. The property was thus kept free of the husband's claims, without necessarily enhancing the authority of the daughter. This trust device was also used in America.

Mississippi adopted the first married women's property act in 1839. New York passed a much better known statute in 1848. Although this also was the year of the Seneca Falls Meeting, often identified as the starting point of the American women's suffrage movement, married women's property issues were not high on the agenda of nineteenth-century feminism. The push for married women's property acts apparently came primarily from creditors interested in clarifying issues relating to property used to secure commercial loans or other transactions.

The statutes were construed narrowly, and various specific issues arising from the economic relations of husbands and wives were resolved by additional legislative action. Some residual aspects of the inferior status of women under coverture were dealt with legislatively in the twentieth century. In 1974, for example, Congress passed the Equal Credit Opportunity Act forbidding discrimination in credit because of marital status or sex. This statute was broadened in 1976 to ban discrimination based on race, religion, and other characteristics.


Basch, Norma. In the Eyes of the Law: Women, Marriage and Property in Nineteenth Century New York: Cornell University Press, 1982.


See alsoWomen's Rights Movement: The Nineteenth Century .

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Married Women's Property Act, New York State

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