Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/667

This page has been validated.

ried woman, except the one supreme right of holding her husband true to the monogamic type of marriage. The legal position of married women to-day represents as many different views of woman's legal rights in marriage as there are States in our Union. But all those States recognize that she has some rights of independent action, not only when her husband is bad or imbecile, but when he is good or competent. The confusing varieties of legislation on this point make summarizing extremely difficult. No generally received principle respecting the just legal relation between husband and wife has controlled the sweeping changes which the legislation of the last thirty years records. These changes have been simply irregular, fitful, and detached attempts to make the domestic yoke of women easier, in places where it was found specially to hurt. We find, however, that there is some approach to uniformity in the changes of the statute laws of old States, and that the legal codes of the new States take counsel generally of the old constitutions which have departed most widely from the original common-law slavery of women in the domestic relation.

Let us see what rights of independent action are now insured, or partially so, to married women.

We have thirty-eight States in our Union. In twenty-eight of these a married woman has legal ownership and separate control of all property owned by her before, or descending to her after, marriage. In ten States her property owned before marriage is secured against any attempt of her husband to alienate it without her consent, but he has full control of incomes resulting from it; and in two of these States the husband receives property which, were she single, would descend to her. In twenty-one States a married woman's earnings are her separate property; in eight States her right to such earnings is legally restricted in various ways, as in Georgia, where a married woman can own absolutely as separate property her own and her children's earnings deposited in a savings-bank "if the same do not exceed two thousand dollars"; and in nine States a woman can hold absolutely in her own control all property coming to her from any source save by gift of her husband—as in Massachusetts, where a recent decision of the Court under this law was that a woman could not own her own wardrobe if her husband gave her the money to buy it! This decision, we may add, a legislative enactment has very recently attempted to overrule by ordaining that a woman may own her personal apparel in Massachusetts.

In twenty-one States a married woman is solely liable for her antenuptial debts; in five States her husband is liable for them to the extent of the property she brought to the common stock at marriage.

In sixteen States a married woman can make a will devising her separate property according to her wish; in twelve States she can so will her estate, provided she gives her husband as much as the law of