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Marriage and Coverture

Cousens Collection
Mss 770 1838-1913 C867
Includes wills and estate papers of various women in mid-nineteenth-century Maine, as well as notes from the trial of Mary Stevens.

Forbes Family Collection
Mss 766 1803-1920 F693
Contains letters to and from various female members of the Forbes family, including letters written from Boston before and during the American Revolution, and nineteenth-century letters written in Rio de Janeiro and Canton, China. The collection also includes the 1838 marriage contract between Sarah Perkins and Henry R. Cleveland.

William H. Gardiner Collection
Mss 8995 1825, 1840, 1859-1871 G224
Includes a small diary with notes related to an 1840 divorce case.

Gardner Family Collection
Mss 899 1780-1934 G226
The records of the Gardner family of Boston and Salem, Massachusetts, dating from the late eighteenth to the twentieth century, contain legal papers relating to issues of dower and inheritance, trust accounts, and guardianship accounts. The collection also includes a woman's diary written on a trip to Europe in 1849 and silhouettes of women of the family.

Hall Family Collection
Mss 899 1765-1840 H175
Deeds, receipts, accounts, and legal papers of the Hall family of Medford, Massachusetts, from 1765 to 1840.

Ebenezer Storer & Son Collection
Mss 761 1761-1788 (1829) S884
Will and estate papers of Ebenezer Storer.

Vertical files: legislative bodies
Mss 1404
Declaration of a Revolutionary War widow seeking a pension.

Nathan Webb Collection
Mss 833 1859-1902 W367
The records of a Maine lawyer and judge include private correspondence, estate correspondence, legal papers, and financial records concerning a number of women.



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Deed showing the transfer of property from Benjamin Hall to Richard Hall, 1774. Benjamin’s wife, Hepeziah Hall, also signed the document.

During the colonial period and well into the nineteenth century, married women did not control their own earnings, nor could they legally own property in their own name. Under the law of baron et feme, an area of common law that persisted after American independence, all property brought into marriage by a woman belonged to her husband. However, women did have some control over property. At the death of her husband, a widow was entitled to one third of his property as her dower. Because of this entitlement, a husband could not sell or transfer property without his wife’s consent. If he did so, after his death she could claim that the sale was illegal and demand the return of the property. For this reason, wives usually signed deeds of sale to show their consent. Often a statement that a woman was signing of her own free will and was not being coerced by her husband accompanied the signature.

In the nineteenth century, state laws such as the 1839 Mississippi, 1848 New York, and 1869 Illinois Married Women’s Property Acts gave women greater control over property they brought into marriage, property they inherited during their marriage, and their own earnings.

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