Women's Rights Movement History

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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Legal Status of Women in Nineteenth Century

After this note, the rest in chapter six focus on suffrage history, which in the late nineteenth century came to encapsulate and embrace the other women's rights reforms.


Historian Linda Kerber examines the meaning of citizenship in light of women’s exclusion from obligations of citizenship, such as jury duty and military service. LINDA KERBER, NO CONSTITUTIONAL RIGHT TO BE LADIES: WOMEN AND THE OBLIGATIONS OF CITIZENSHIP (1998). In their respective writings, political scientists Judith Shklar and Gretchen Ritter focus on questions of citizenship, arguing that feminists’ struggle for legal rights has always been part of a broader quest for civic inclusion. JUDITH SHKLAR, IN AMERICAN CITIZENSHIP: THE QUEST FOR INCLUSION (1991); GRETCHEN RITTER, THE CONSTITUTION AS SOCIAL DESIGN: GENDER AND CIVIC MEMBERSHIP IN THE AMERICAN CONSTITUTIONAL ORDER (2006. Legal relations and gendered discourses of citizenship across U.S. history are discussed in Rogers Smith, One United People: Second-Class Female Citizenship and the American Quest for Community, 1 YALE J.L. & HUMAN. 229 (1989); Nancy Cott, Marriage and Women’s Citizenship in the United States, 1830-1934, 103 AM. HIST. REV. 1440 (1998); Linda Kerber, The Paradox of Women’s Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin v. Massachusetts, 97 AM. HIST. REV. 349 (1992); Linda Kerber, The Meanings of Citizenship, 84 J. AM. HIST. 833 (1997. For scholarly writings focusing on women’s contested claims to citizenship in the charged political climate of the post-Civil War era, see LAURA EDWARDS, GENDERED STRIFE AND CONFUSION: THE POLITICAL CULTURE OF RECONSTRUCTION (1997) and Norma Basch, Reconstructing Female Citizenship, in THE CONSTITUTION, LAW, AND AMERICAN LIFE (Donald Nieman ed., 1994).

Married Women

The study of women and the law in the nineteenth century has focused extensively on the evolving rights of married women. Norma Basch discusses the tensions between republican ideology and the notion of marital unity embodied in the doctrine of coverture, and the influence of feminist movements in the gradual erosion of coverture through married women’s property laws in the mid-nineteenth century. NORMA BASCH, IN THE EYES OF THE LAW: WOMEN, MARRIAGE, AND PROPERTY IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY NEW YORK (1982). Basch has also studied the changing law of divorce and its impact on women. NORMA BASCH, FRAMING AMERICAN DIVORCE: FROM THE REVOLUTIONARY GENERATION TO THE VICTORIANS (2001); Norma Basch, Invisible Women: The Legal Fiction of Marital Unity in Nineteenth-Century America, 5 FEMINIST STUD. 346 (1979); Norma Basch, Relief in the Premises: Divorce as a Woman's Remedy in New York and Indiana, 1815-1870, 8 LAW & HIST. REV. 1 (1990); Norma Basch, The Emerging Legal History of Women in the United States: Property, Divorce, and the Constitution, 12 SIGNS 97 (1986). See Note to Chapter One-- Women and Divorce.

For summaries of nineteenth-century women’s legal status within marriage and the family, see MICHAEL GROSSBERG, GOVERNING THE HEARTH: LAW AND FAMILY IN NINETEENTH CENTURY AMERICA (1985); ELIZABETH BOWLES WARBASSE, THE CHANGING LEGAL RIGHTS OF MARRIED WOMEN, 1800-1861 (1987); PEGGY RABKIN, FATHERS TO DAUGHTERS: THE LEGAL FOUNDATIONS OF FEMALE EMANCIPATION (1980); Reva Siegel, Home As Work: The First Woman’s Rights Claims Concerning Wives’ Household Labor, 1850-1880, 103 YALE L.J. 1073 (1994); Reva Siegel, The Modernization of Marital Status Law: Adjudicating Wives' Rights to Earnings, 1860-1930, 82 GEO. L.J. 2127 (1995); Carole Shammas, Reassessing the Married Women’s Property Acts, 6 J. WOMEN’S HIST. 9 (1994). Ariela Dubler explores the historical impact of the normative framework of marriage on single women. Ariela Dubler, In the Shadow of Marriage: Single Women and the Legal Construction of the Family and the State, 112 YALE L.J. 1641 (2003).

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