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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 18.djvu/671

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THE LEGAL POSITION OF MARRIED WOMEN.

she be allowed to shirk all family obligations, while presumably having a very considerable influence in determining the scale of living? Still more, should she be allowed to assist her husband in cheating his creditors, by contracting family debts in his name, which he can repudiate by passing his property into her hands, or by merely swearing he is bankrupt?

And, on the other hand, where, as in Iowa, the two heads of the married firm are made equally responsible by law for family expenses, should there not be an accompanying provision making the married partners equal owners of all current incomes?

And, again, where the principle of equality of rank of husband and wife, father and mother, in the home is fully conceded, how can it be applied in the detail of the unity of name and residence demanded? Man, as the senior partner, now gives the name and determines the legal residence. Some women claim the right to retain their own single names, and demand a legal recognition of that right. Should that be yielded in any case, which parent would then claim superiority of child-ownership in giving a name to the children? These and other delicate questions of adjustment must be determined, not by a priori reasoning, but by an appeal to past and present experience, with these two principles in view, viz., the primary need of family unity as a condition of social order, and the secondary need of increasing measure of personal independence for women within that unity. And since our legislative changes have been, for the most part, attempts to limit the power of abuse of the domestic control vested in the man, rather than efforts to secure the freedom of women from that control by the husband, the result is an inconsistent medley of laws, which at one time recognize the married woman as an independent unit, and at another time as the mere ward of her husband. The great practical need for the parties most interested—thoughtful, intelligent women—is a clear ideal of the just legal relations of men and women. With that ideal in mind, the laws, and especially the actual practice under those laws, should be examined, and, where they come short, they may in time be amended by slow, pacific, but persistent methods of educational appeal.

A great help to this end is the work which contributed so much toward the changes in Connecticut laws, the work recently so ably done for Massachusetts by Messrs. Almy and Fuller, viz., the compilation by reliable lawyers of the present laws, with an indication of all inequalities, and the injustice resulting from them.

Meanwhile, as the band of ancient law, which made woman the domestic slave of man, protected her from a worse fate, and made possible the primitive home, so the inconsistencies of our present laws make that band flexible in adjustment, even by ignorant or unconscious workers, to the present and future needs of woman and the home. Protected by these ever-changing codes, the higher uses of