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1846: Should Women Be Allowed to Own Property?

Introduction: In 1787, the Founding Fathers created the U.S. Constitution, the first rulebook for organizing power not from the top down but from the bottom up, through the will of the people. Every new state also needed a constitution, and in 1846 Wisconsin’s leaders tried to decide fundamental laws for the new region. At the time, women had no legal rights under most governments. As long as a woman lived at home, all her possessions and any money she earned belonged to her father; after marriage, they belonged to her husband. Some people drafting Wisconsinʹs constitution tried to insert an article allowing married women to own their own property, such as money earned or inherited. Voters rejected the draft constitution containing this controversial provision but similar legal protections were soon passed by the state legislature.

Background Reading: ʺThe Northwest Ordinance, 1787ʺ h t t p : / / w w w . w i s c o n s i n h i s t o r y . o r g / t u r n i n g p o i n t s / t p 0 0 9 / ? a c t i o n = m o r e _ e s s a and ʺThe State Constitutions of 1846 and 1848ʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/tp015/?action=more_essay y

Document to Analyze: Strong, Marshall M. ʺSpeech … February 5, 1847.ʺ (pp. 235243) http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=59

Who, What, Where, When, Why: This speech was given by Marshall M. Strong, a delegate to the 1846 constitutional convention from Racine, who believed that a woman’s proper place was in the care of her husband. Early in the legislative session of 1847, Strong made this speech arguing that women’s property rights were not only unrepresentative of majority opinion, but sure to produce only “evil.” Strong resigned from the convention before its close when his objections were not heeded

Related Documents: Agricola. ʺʹAgricolaʹsʹ Views on Rights of Married Women [February 27, 1847].ʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=56 and Wisconsin. Constitutional Convention (1846). ʺRejected Constitution …, 1846.ʺ http://www.wisconsinhistory.org/turningpoints/search.asp?id=54

Vocabulary: Unfamiliar words are defined at www.wisconsinhistory.org/dictionary


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