A Bill Concerning the Rights and Liabilities of Married Women
[Columbus, Ohio]: [Richard Nevins], [February 1861].
[Columbus, Ohio]: [Richard Nevins], [February 1861]. First edition. Bifolium slip bill printing measuring 330 x195mm and complete in 3 pages. Lower blank portion of conjugate leaf trimmed; some splitting along fold lines. Early pencil annotations throughout. Slip bills such as this, with widely spaced, numbered lines, were designed for in-session discussion, debate and annotation; and they were printed exclusively for the use of delegates. Therefore few survive. Unrecorded in OCLC with no other known copies noted, the present is perhaps the only extant recording of the proposals that would be refined into the final version of the law later that year.
Ten years earlier, during the height of her work for abolition, Jane Elizabeth Jones spoke before the Ohio Women's Convention in Salem to connect that movement with the fight for women's rights: "We should demand our recognition as equal members of the human family...as human beings; and when this point is established, the term 'woman's rights' will become obsolete" (Ohio History). Highlighting Black Americans' and women's humanity was crucial to her work. And in 1861, alongside reformers Frances Gage and Hannah Cutler, she would continue to push this message even further. Speaking to the Ohio legislature regarding women's property rights, she called upon Senators "to imagine themselves with the legal rights of women" -- to confront the terrible realities of being a human "whose property and wages became their husbands' at marriage," as did even their own bodies (Broad Movements). An electrifying orator, Jones managed to get a sufficient number of men to support the cause during that session. The result was the present bill.
While differences exist between the text of this slip bill and the final legislation, the impact was massive for the women of Ohio. And it was a bellwether for women across the US who were clamouring for equality. In its final state, the "1861 law declared that any real estate that a woman had acquired before or during the marriage was her separate property and under her sole control. She could collect the rents and profits. She could contract to manage her real estate...The 1861 law also declared that a woman's personal property including wages acquired before and during marriage was now her separate property and under her sole control, regardless of divorce" (Little). While it would take another 26 years for women to achieve full property rights, with the passage of the Married Women's Property Act in 1887, the present efforts constituted a victory -- at least for white women. For Black and Indigenous women, the laws did not significantly budge and they found fewer white allies than would be hoped given the movement's basis in "common humanity."
An important piece of U.S., Midwestern, and Ohio legal and gender history, further comparative research could be done between the terms of the bill as drafted and its final iteration, as well as to the extent it offered a model for continued efforts within the women's rights movement's varied organizations. (Item #5555)