Feminism and the Law

Tue Jun 17 01:44:24 UTC 2003

        It is sometimes said that in the view of Blackstone (the 18th century jurist who set out the classic view of the common law), in the common law the husband and the wife were one, and the husband was the one.  I believe that this quotation (or at least the inflammatory later portion of it) does not occur in Blackstone.  I have come across what may be its source, a 1928 opinion by a federal judge in Tennessee:

        >>The law of Tennessee, as to tenants by the entirety is purely the old common law. In this age of the Nineteenth Amendment, rights of women, feminism, women office holders, and general emancipation of the sex, it is almost shocking to learn that in one form of conveyancing, 'the husband and wife are as one person in law,' and the husband is that one person; 'the legal existence of the wife' being 'incorporated into that of the husband.'  Ames v. Norman, decided in 1857, and reported in 4 Sneed (36 Tenn.) 683, 70 Am.Dec. 269, very fully sets out the Tennessee, and of course, the common law as to tenants by entirety.<<

McNeil v. Connecticut Fire Ins. Co. of Hartford, Conn., 24 F.2d 221, 223 (W.D. Tenn. Jan 20, 1928), aff'd, 35 F.2d 675 (6th Cir. 1929).  Ames v. Norman is the source of the interior quotes, but not the words "the husband is that one person."  The form of conveyancing referred to is the tenancy by the entirety, which is the form in which most married couples hold real property.

John Baker

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