Home as Work: The First Woman's Rights Claims concerning Wives' Household Labor, 1850-1880

By Siegel, Reva B. | The Yale Law Journal, March 1994 | Go to article overview

Home as Work: The First Woman's Rights Claims concerning Wives' Household Labor, 1850-1880


Siegel, Reva B., The Yale Law Journal


Contents

Introduction                                                           1075
I. Genesis of a Rights Discourse                                       1081
  A. The Law of Marital Property in the Antebellum Era                 1082
  B. Women's Household Labor in the Antebellum Era                     1086
  C. Ideological Sources of Joint Property Advocacy                    1091
     1. Utopian Communitarianism                                       1094
     2. Abolitionism and Political Antislavery                         1098
     3. The Roots of "Woman's Rights " in Separate Spheres Ideology    1108
II. Joint Property Advocacy in the Antebellum Era                      1112
  A. Critical Premises of the Joint Property Claim                     1113
     1. Exposing the Gendered Structure of Property Law                1113
     2. Joint Property as a Strategy for Economic Emancipation         1119
  B. The New York Campaign: 1850's                                     1135
III. Joint Property Advocacy in the Postbellum Era                     1146
  A. Shifting Priorities of the Postwar Woman's Rights Movement        1147
  B. Popularization and Depoliticization of the Joint Property Claim   1153

1. Dissemination of the Rights Discourse in

        Postwar Suffrage Journals                                      1153
     2. Assimilation of Rights Discourse by Journal Readership         1158
     3. Postwar Transformations in Joint Property Discourse            1161
  C. The Waning of Legislative Advocacy                                1167
     1. Postwar Marital Property Reform Efforts                        1168
        a. Joint Property in Inheritance                               1169
        b. Joint Property During Marriage                              1172
        c. Abandonment of Joint Property Advocacy                      1177

2. Reconsidering the Earnings Statutes in Context:

        Legislation and Interpretation                                 1179
IV. Exploring the Movement's Retreat from Joint Property Advocacy      1189
  A. A New Concept of Marital Equality: "Two-Career Marriage"          1191

B. A New Perspective on Women's Household Labor:

     Cooperative Housekeeping                                          1198
  C. Shaw v. Gilman: Debating a Now-Bankrupt Tradition                 1205
Coda: Reflections at the Crossroads of History and Theory              1211
Conclusion                                                             1215

Introduction

The law is wholly masculine: it is created and executed by our type or class of the man nature. The framers of all legal compacts are thus restricted to the masculine stand-point of observation - to the thoughts, feelings, and biases of men. The law, then, could give us no representation as women, and therefore, no impartial justice, even if the present law-makers were honestly intent upon this; for we can be represented only by our peers.

It is to be expected, then, under the present administration, that woman should be the legal subject of man, legally reduced to pecuniary dependence upon him ....

Antoinette Brown [Blackwell], 1852(1)

When the American feminist movement is discussed in legal circles, conversation often proceeds as if women first organized to seek equality during our lifetimes. But it was in the years before the Civil War that a "woman's rights",(2) movement first demanded equality at law. Those who do acknowledge the existence of this early woman's rights movement generally assume that its demands were satisfied long ago, with the reform of marital status law and the amendment of the Constitution to allow women to vote. Yet, as the remarks of Antoinette Brown Blackwell suggest, nineteenth-century feminists raised questions in their time that are still alive in our own. …

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