Feminism and the Law

Tue Jun 17 03:11:47 UTC 2003

        According to some web pages, Lucretia Mott used the line in a lecture on December 17, 1849, but was herself quoting from an earlier lawbook.  Here's the relevant passage, from http://irw.rutgers.edu/research/ugresearch/international/mott.html:

        >>Walker, of Cincinnati, in his Introduction to American Law, says: "With regard to political rights, females form a positive exception to the general doctrine of equality. They have no part or lot in the formation or administration of government. They cannot vote or hold office. We require them to contribute their share in the way of taxes, to the support of government, but allow them no voice in its direction. We hold them amenable to the laws when made, but allow them no share in making them. This language, applied to males, would be the exact definition of political slavery; applied to females, custom does not teach us so to regard it." Woman, however, is beginning so to regard it.

        "The law of husband and wife, as you gather it from the books, is a disgrace to any civilized nation. The theory of the law degrades the wife almost to the level of slaves. When a woman marries, we call her condition coverture, and speak of her as a femme covert . The old writers call the husband baron, and sometimes, in plain English, lord... The merging of her name in that of her husband is emblematic of the fate of all her legal rights. The torch of Hymen serves but to light the pile, on which these rights are offered up. The legal theory is, that marriage makes the husband and wife one person, and that person is the husband . On this subject, reform is loudly called for. There is no foundation in reason or expediency, for the absolute and slavish subjection of the wife to the husband, which forms the foundation of the present legal relations. Were woman, in point of fact, the abject thing which the law, in theory, considers her to be when married, she would not be worthy the companionship of man." <<

        So, if this is accurate, Walker's Introduction to American Law would be the original source.

John Baker

-----Original Message-----
From: Fred Shapiro [mailto:fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU]
Sent: Monday, June 16, 2003 10:58 PM
Subject: Re: Feminism and the Law

On Mon, 16 Jun 2003, Baker, John wrote:

>         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:

I have long been interested in this quotation, and welcome any information
about it.  I think it's much older than 1928.  The New Beacon Book of
Quotations by Women has the following:

The Law has made the man and wife one person, and that one person the
        Lucretia Mott (1853), in Dana Greene, ed., _Lucretia Mott_ (1980)

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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