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The absence of a body of solid scholarship on the history of West Virginia women makes it difficult to unravel the traditional and conflicting interpretations of West Virginia's past. Sociological studies, spawned by the interest in Appalachia in the s, portray the mountain state as an underdeveloped rural region with its own unique subculture. More recent interpretive studies view the past through the narrow lens of politics and personalities, a focus which tends to exclude women.
In fact, the best analyses of West Virginia history emphasize the evolution of state government, thereby omitting any kind of meaningful study of the female population of the state.
This study attempts to fill in some of the gaps by focusing on the law as it related to women. A relatively new area of inquiry, women's legal history examines the links between law and the society which creates it. Based on the premise that male-made and male-interpreted laws have a powerful influence on women's lives, this study looks at West Virginia statutes concerning women's property and marital rights and examines how the state's high court applied them.
What legal and social status did lawmakers prescribe for West Virginia women? Did such rules operate in theory or practice? To what extent did the evolution of property law continue to subordinate women? How did the West Virginia experience compare to that of other states? The answers to these questions provide insight into West Virginia law, prevailing views of family life, and the status of married women. As was true across the South, the law which governed the property rights of nineteenth-century Virginia women stemmed from English precedents.
According to the doctrine of marital unity, once married, a woman lost most of her property rights. American law regarded husband and wife as one person; in this case, one plus one equalled one, the husband. So long as a woman was married, the law virtually ignored her existence.
While a femme covert married woman could retain any real property she held before marriage, her husband could manage it and keep the rents and profits. He also controlled her earnings and those of her children. Although the law granted her dower a widow's share in the real property held by her husband during marriage she had to survive her husband to claim it.
She could not contract, sue or be sued. Common law combined marital assets and placed them under the husband's control, a practice which, in theory, stemmed from the assumed obligation of husbands to support their wives. In the s a of state legislatures put into statute law for the first time the principle of separate estates for women. Recent scholarship suggests that a fluctuating economy heightened the need to protect women's property from profligate husbands. West Virginia Unionist leaders launched their own legislative revision of femme covert disabilities in The state's first constitution empowered legislators to pass laws protecting the property of married women from the debts of their husbands.
This provision of the Woman want sex Simon West Virginia, however, was not enacted without debate. In fact, a motion to remove it, defeated by a vote ofgenerated discussion about property reform which reflected opposing views of West Virginia leaders.
Those who challenged the provision argued that it would threaten women's traditional role. Those who supported it argued that it would, in fact, sustain that role. The purpose of the provision, one delegate noted, was to protect "the weaker class, the female portion of our country. Inas Republican lawmakers prepared to deal with women's property reform, they turned for guidance to the much revised statute of New York.
Virginia did not act to protect the property of married women until West Virginia's early effort at property reform actually fit solidly into the much larger Radical Reconstruction movement that resulted in the expansion of women's rights in nine southern states. It was written to protect women and their families, and in the process relieve the state of a potential financial burden.
West Virginia's first Married Women's Property Act provided that property conveyed to a married woman be "her sole and separate property. If living separate from her husband, thereby needing some financial autonomy, she could "in her own name, carry on any trade or business," and keep her earnings.
Four years after the passage of the legislation, the second West Virginia Constitution was ratified, this time when Republicans were no longer in control. Like the constitution which preceded it, this new plan of government also enabled legislators to "pass such laws as may be necessary to protect the property of married women from the debts, liabilities, and control of their husbands.
West Virginia judges also confirmed that the purpose of the Married Women's Property Act was to protect women from unworthy husbands, not to ensure their equality. In so doing, they applied the same narrow construction of the law as did their counterparts in such states as New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts.
Marling incurred in securing a bed and board divorce a legal separation with prohibition against either spouse remarrying. The court declared that the law removed a married woman's common-law "incapacity" to contract in business only when she was living apart from her husband.
There is "no doubt," the judges observed, that "our statute was passed because the Legislature saw that a married woman, abandoned by her husband or for any reason living separate and apart from him would necessarily be compelled to support herself. Inthe Married Women's Property Act underwent some fine-tuning. The revised section protected the earnings of a married woman from "the control or disposal of her husband. It should come as no surprise that West Virginia was late to recognize women's independent earnings.
The male-centered culture which had long resisted change dictated that "women are taught to serve men and to consider themselves inferior. Over the years, the crucial principle of a separate estate for married women, described in the Code of West Virginiawas modified by a series of statutory changes and court rulings.
Although the original statute was to ensure wives some financial protection, property reform in West Virginia, mirroring developments in many other states, failed to produce a radical change in traditional common-law views of property. No ificant property reform for married women occurred in West Virginia until This year culminated a decade-long, first-time effort to codify the laws of the state.
The codification process by its nature compelled a careful scrutiny of existing law and encouraged the elimination of inequities, ambiguities, and complicated, lengthy procedures. There is also no question that in the midst of hard economic times, legislators responded to the urgent need for greater female financial independence. They also reacted to the passage of the suffrage amendment, the entrance of many more married women into the work force, and to the "liberating" climate of the decade of the s.
The code removed other impediments to a married woman's ability to engage in business. Common-law principle had always required a married woman to be ed by her husband to sue or be sued by a third person. The code partially erased this disability by permitting a married woman to sue or be sued when living apart from her husband, when the action concerned her separate estate, or when it was between herself and her husband. Citing common-law principle which required a woman to recover damages for personal injury by suing with her husband, the court noted that, "this common law rule has, in a large measure, been abrogated by the various Married Women's Acts.
Finally, the code declared that a married woman could sue as if she were a "single woman," rather than, as the law had ly stated, a " femme sole. Until the early twentieth century, inheritance law in West Virginia prescribed a dependent status for widows.
Their future was tied to the right of dower, a woman's life estate in one-third of her husband's real property. As a widow, she could not convey the property by sale or through her will, but could enjoy its rents and profits. At her death, her estate in dower reverted to her husband's heirs.
While dower was supposed to protect a widow, it offered no foolproof guarantee. Dower rights only benefitted women when Woman want sex Simon West Virginia husband's wealth was in land. A husband could sell his real estate without his wife's consent, although the sale of property did not erase a wife's one-third interest and she could try to claim it years after the sale had occurred. In an case, the high court likened dower to "the widow's last plank in her shipwreck. At his death, the children inherited the property, or in their absence, his wife's heirs.
While the statute set the husband's curtesy at one-third of his wife's estate, a law ofenacted by a more conservative legislature, brought West Virginia back to an earlier time when a husband was entitled to be a tenant by the curtesy in all of his wife's estate.
This statute remained in force essentially untilwhen the relatively liberal code abolished curtesy and decreed that, "a surviving spouse shall be endowed of one-third of all the real estate" of the deceased spouse. Given the conservative, fundamentalist quality of Appalachian culture and the strength of family relationships, divorce has been less common in West Virginia than elsewhere. According to one recent study, "mountain people do not look kindly on divorce," a legal area that has traditionally provoked much debate. Bishop Woman want sex Simon West Virginia in that, "there is no question upon which a greater diversity of sentiment has prevailed in different ages.
In England, ecclesiastical courts granted partial divorces and, much less often, Parliament granted absolute divorces only on the grounds of adultery. For women, the most important change in nineteenth-century divorce law was that it afforded them greater legal control of their lives. There is a clear legislative and judicial history of divorce in the mountain state which is consistent with traditional attitudes resistant to change.
This history also sheds some light on how state leaders viewed women's property rights. West Virginia enacted its first divorce statute inmodeled in part on a Virginia law of as revised in These included two very common grounds for divorce in other states -- adultery and willful desertion for more than three years -- plus impotency, confinement to prison, and sexual conduct having the potential to undermine family life.
More radical revision came inapparently in response to pressure from the legal profession and to the liberal changes in the Married Women's Property Act placed in the code. The new female electorate, the post-World War I marriage crisis, and the fact that it was far more difficult to obtain an absolute divorce in West Virginia than in many other states may have also influenced the legislature.
Support for the bill was overwhelming. Lawmakers repealed the statute providing for bed and board divorces, allowing West Virginia to most other states which had already abolished them, and made the grounds for absolute divorce ificantly more liberal.
Efforts to bring about divorce reform in the state were again undertaken in the s, in the wake of national divorce reform. The new statute ofwhich reflected laws already in place in other states, established a reasonable apprehension of bodily harm as grounds for divorce as well as the "false accusation of adultery or homosexuality by either party.
The social and cultural change which led to much earlier divorce reform in other states clearly came late to West Virginia. This explains, in part, why absolute divorce was relatively difficult to obtain in the mountain state.Woman want sex Simon West Virginia
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