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The 1700s witnessed the emergence of a movement to improve the education of women. During this period in colonial America, women had very limited access to learning and this was deemed as a major hindrance to their ability to independently support themselves. While this movement was supported by male citizens, there had been some reservations when it comes to marriage laws.


Marriage in the 1700s

This century regarded marriage as the foundation of social and political order. The civic status of a man is a result of him becoming the head of his household, representing his wife and children in public. On the other hand, women, once married, loses all her independent legal, political, and economic rights under the legal doctrine of coverture. Her identity becomes that of her husband’s, taking his name. As a consequence, a married woman no longer has the right to enter into a legally binding contract, take suit into court, acquire property, earn her own income, or vote.

The Rights of Married Women

Despite the loss of most of their rights, married women possessed the right to be accorded the same social status as her husband's. If her husband refused to provide for her appropriately, she had the legal right to sue him and gain compensation from the courts. Prior to the court's ruling, the doctrine of necessities would apply to protect women from being neglected by their husbands. Under the said doctrine, married women were allowed to amass charges at local stores and taverns which their husband are obligated to pay for.

Married Women's Rights to Real Property

Married women’s rights to real property were more extensive than their rights to personal property. Whatever realty wives brought into their marriage may not be sold or mortgaged by their husbands without their consent. While a husband is allowed to use his wife’s real property, he did not have the right to convey it. This was primarily because women's real estate is essentially inherited from their fathers, and was intended to be kept within the family and descend through them to their children.

As for real property brought to the marriage by their husband or purchased afterwards, husbands may sell or mortgage this only when their wives have signed a statement that confirmed their consent. This consent is recorded with a deed and verified by the courts, which were diligent in ensuring that wives conveyed out of their own free will and were not coerced by their husbands.

One of the most important rights of married women in the 1700s was their right to a dower. This is equivalent to one-third to one half of the husband's real property which is granted to them during the event of their husband’s death. One-third of the husband's real estate goes to his wife if they had children and one half if there were none.

Bearing Children in the 1700s

Most American women in the eighteenth century were confined in rural abodes, taking care of domestic duties and giving birth to at least five children. During this era, child-bearing was a very perilous condition, for both the women and their children. Mothers were giving birth to five to eight children on average and, in between these, some pregnancies ended up in miscarriages. It is estimated that for every eight women in child-bearing age, one woman loses her life due to childbirth. Other mothers lived to see their infants’ deaths.

While the lives of women in the 1700s is a far cry from the many liberties that they now have, it is noteworthy to mention how there were laws in place to ensure that they are provided for during marriage. Also, efforts raised within this century to improve the level of education given to women served as a good foundation for the many developments that future generations are now enjoying.