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Women, Money, and the Law

Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Gender, and the Courts

Joyce W. Warren

Publication Year: 2005

Did 19th-century American women have money of their own? To answer this question, Women, Money, and the Law looks at the public and private stories of individual women within the context of American culture, assessing how legal and cultural traditions affected women's lives, particularly with respect to class and racial differences, and analyzing the ways in which women were involved in economic matters. Joyce Warren has uncovered a vast, untapped archive of legal documents from the New York Supreme Court that had been expunged from the official record. By exploring hundreds of court cases involving women litigants between 1845 and 1875--women whose stories had, in effect, been erased from history--and by studying the lives and works of a wide selection of 19th-century women writers, Warren has found convincing evidence of women's involvement with money. The court cases show that in spite of the most egregious gender restrictions of law and custom, many 19th-century women lived independently, coping with the legal and economic restraints of their culture while making money for themselves and often for their families as well. They managed their lives and their money with courage and tenacity and fractured constructed gender identities by their lived experience. Many women writers, even when they did not publicly advocate economic independence for women, supported themselves and their families throughout their writing careers and in their fiction portrayed the importance of money in women's lives. Women from all backgrounds--some defeated through ignorance and placidity, others as ruthless and callous as the most hardened businessmen--were in fact very much a part of the money economy. Together, the evidence of the court cases and the writers runs counter to the official narrative, which scripted women as economically dependent and financially uninvolved. Warren provides an illuminating counternarrative that significantly questions contemporary assumptions about the lives of 19th-century women. Women, Money, and the Law is an important corrective to the traditional view and will fascinate scholars and students in women's studies, literary studies, and legal history as well as the general reader.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


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pp. vii-viii

Particularly important to the writing of this book were the many libraries I worked in and the librarians with whom I worked. Among the libraries whose collections were essential to my research were the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College, the Houghton Library at Harvard University, the Rutgers...

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Introduction: Fracturing Gender

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pp. 1-18

In Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story “If I Were a Man” (1914), the female protagonist is magically turned into her husband. As she walks to work, she puts her hands in her pockets and feels money. Gilman writes: “All at once, with a deep rushing sense of power and pride, she felt what she had never felt before...

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Chapter One: Marriage and Money: Trust v. Trust

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pp. 19-43

On November 24, 1856, Mary F. (Grew) Trust left her husband’s house at14 Greene Street in New York City after seventeen years of marriage and six children.1 One week after she left, on December 1, 1856, her husband,Joseph W. Trust, a wealthy New York businessman, brought suit for divorce on the grounds of adultery, which she denied and countered with...

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Chapter Two: The Dominant Discourse: Compulsory Dependency

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pp. 44-74

The case of Trust v. Trust, then, provides an illustration of how one beleaguered woman reacted to the circumstances of American society in themiddle of the nineteenth century. The succeeding chapters examine fiction by women writers and the records of women involved in other court cases, women who, in their actions and/or in their words, in vary-...

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Chapter Three: Economics and the American Renaissance Woman: Warner, Southworth, Stowe, Cummins, & Fern

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pp. 75-114

Although the majority of women writers did not advocate woman’s economic independence, economics was a major factor in almost all of their works. This chapter looks at some of the most well known novels of the nineteenth century. Like F. O. Matthiessen in his influential 1941 study of nineteenth-century American...

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Chapter Four: The Woman Plaintiff

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pp. 115-153

If the works of these five American Renaissance women writers provide an indication of the nature of economic concerns among nineteenth century women writers, the court cases that I looked at make clear that those concerns were not confined to public women. In spite of proscriptions against women’s...

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Chapter Five: The Economics of Race: Harper, Wilson, Crafts, & Jacobs

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pp. 154-184

If African American slave women were “property,” how were free African American women affected by economics? In certain respects, it was less problematic for free African American women to assert their financial independence in the nineteenth century than it was for white women because black women were...

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Chapter Six: The Woman Defendant

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pp. 185-215

In the court cases dealt with in chapter 4, the women litigants were plaintiffs. However, in the court cases involving women litigants, not counting divorce cases, 49 percent involved a woman as one of the defendants. In most cases when the defendant was female, the plaintiff was male, but occasionally both...

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Chapter Seven: Economics and the Law in Fiction: Fern, Tyler, Oakes Smith, Chesebro’, Phelps, Stoddard, Child, Davis, Ruiz de Burton, & Winnemucca Hopkins

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pp. 216-242

Although nineteenth-century American women were proscribed from active involvement in the law in an official capacity—they could not practice as lawyers, obtain judgeships, or serve on juries—nevertheless, as the court cases in this study indicate, many women were involved in legal matters....

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Chapter Eight: The Economics of Divorce

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pp. 243-279

At a time when women were expected to be ignorant of money matters,divorce was to many women the catalyst that dramatized or called attention to the importance of economics in their lives. In the cases that I read from the New York Supreme Court from 1845 to 1875, 23 percent of the cases involving women were divorce cases. In the large majority of...

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Chapter Nine: Woman's Economic Independence: Fern, Alcott, & Gilman

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pp. 280-301

Although all of the nineteenth-century women writers in this study recognized and dealt with in their works the significance of economics for women, only a small proportion of those writers publicly advocated woman’s economic independence. In this chapter I will look at the arguments of three authors who emphasized financial independence for...

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Epilogue: Into the Twenty-First Century

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pp. 302-311

In their recognition of the necessity of economic independence for women, Fern, Alcott, and Gilman, along with African American writers like Harper and Jacobs, took a stand on an issue that was counter to the many of the women in the court cases in this study lived independently,coping with the legal and economic restraints of their culture while mak-...


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pp. 313-364


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pp. 365-373

E-ISBN-13: 9781587296505
E-ISBN-10: 1587296500
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459538
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459533

Page Count: 384
Publication Year: 2005

OCLC Number: 182662495
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Women, Money, and the Law

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Subject Headings

  • Economics in literature.
  • Courts in literature.
  • Law in literature.
  • Women and literature -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Money in literature.
  • American fiction -- 19th century -- History and criticism
  • American fiction -- Women authors -- History and criticism.
  • Law and literature -- History -- 19th century.
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