In 1817, marriage had a significant legal effect on women. In the words of the eminent 18th century jurist Sir William Blackstone: “By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage or at least is incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection and cover she performs everything.” With marriage, women lost their legal rights. Single women could exercise legal rights – such as owning property, leaving property under a will or buying property. A married woman could not dispose of real property (for instance, land) or personal property (including furniture, clothing, jewelry, art, writings or household goods) without the consent of her husband. Any income she earned was subject to his control. A husband had an obligation to maintain his wife and any children of the marriage. He also became responsible for his wife’s debts.

Transition in Property Rights of Married Women