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Married Women's Property and Male Coercion: United States Courts and the Privy Examination, 1864-1887

From: Journal of Women's History
Volume 12, Number 2, Summer 2000
pp. 57-80 | 10.1353/jowh.2000.0035


This article addresses an overlooked area of married women's property law: the separate or privy examination. Under state privy examination laws, a married woman who intended to sell or mortgage her own property was required to be interviewed by a public official in order to determine whether she understood the transaction and whether her husband had coerced her into it. This article traces the dramatic transformation in the ways in which courts interpreted these supposedly protective statutes from the mid-1860s to the late 1880s. It raises and answers complex questions about how the rise of an integrated national economy and the judiciary's increasing emphasis on creditors' rights affected married women's property interests in the late nineteenth century.

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