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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/670

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

they attain personal rights. No State Legislature has said "Go to, let us make the married woman the legal equal of her husband," but legislation has pointed in that direction more and more during these last years, so pregnant of changes in her position. If the married woman is to be the legal equal of her husband, she will find she must accept the penalties as well as gains of independence. The laws already indicate this. For instance, as soon as women were allowed to hold as separate property what they owned before marriage, they were made solely liable for their own antenuptial debts. As soon as women were allowed to hold as separate property what they gained in any way after marriage, they were made liable for their own separate debts incurred after marriage. And as soon as they were allowed to carry on separate trades and business, they were made partially or equally liable with the husband for the support of the family. Not that legislation in these two directions has been simultaneous or universally united; but these two tendencies are to be noted. And the one is the legitimate corollary of the other. As fast as the wife is removed from wardship to her husband, she should be required to assume her personal obligations and release him from them. The practical question now before us is, How far are these twin tendencies to proceed? Judging from facts of existing law, and analogies of other social movements, we may arrive at the conclusion that, just as in political control the overmastering impulse of growth is in the direction of the greatest possible freedom of the individual, consistent with social cohesion, so in domestic control the irresistible movement is in the direction of the most perfect legal equality of the married partners, consistent with family unity.

These exact limits we can not yet master in superficial detail, either in political government or family life. But past experience shows us that the measure of personal independence which woman can gain inside the family structure will alone be hers permanently. All attempts to abrogate the legal marriage tie, or to make her sole owner of the children, in order to secure her independent sovereignty, have been abortive movements, leading to a reversion to less developed forms of sexual union, or even to that promiscuity which (like political anarchy of revolt) demands the despotic rule of the strongest to lay again the foundations of progress. The States of our Union which have carried their legislative changes farthest in the direction of legal independence of married women have not yet settled fully the questions involved. For instance, in States accepting the principle of equal ownership of personal estate and equal responsibility for personal debts, the question as to which parent should be solely or chiefly responsible for the support of the family is only half met. In Connecticut (by its recent sweeping revision, which places it among the most advanced in respect to our topic) the father is made responsible, alone, for family expenses. But, if a woman owns personal property, should