Professor Kristine Knaplund: Women and Wills: An Empirical Analysis of the Married Women's Property Act
Rutgers Law Record
Professor Kristine S. Knaplund has published the article, "Women and Wills: An Empirical Analysis of the Married Women's Property Act and its Remarkable Resonance Today," in Rutgers Law Record, 45 Rutgers L. Rec. 216 (2018). The article examines the restrictions placed on women's property rights following the passage of Missouri's Married Women's Property Act in 1875.
Excerpt from "Women and Wills: An Empirical Analysis of the Married Women's Property Act and Its Remarkable Resonance Today":
By 1900, the state of Missouri had a quarter century’s worth of experience with its version of the Married Women’s Property Act, passed in 1875 to reverse the common law and decree that personal property acquired by a married woman was her own to control. In 1889, the statute was amended to grant a married woman similar rights over her real property. While the new statute did not affect any property a wife had acquired before its passage, it specifically provided that the husband had no right to any property she obtained after the law went into effect. However, a married woman in Missouri was still constrained in other ways. She could not serve as executrix or administratrix of an estate, and if she had been appointed as such, her letters were revoked as soon as her marriage was suggested to the probate court. Although Missouri allowed women to write their wills, the will of a single woman who later married was automatically revoked under the theory that marriage repealed a woman’s ability to execute her own will. Overall, the ability for a woman to change these laws was limited: no woman, married or single, could be Governor or any other executive officer, state legislator, juror or judge of a circuit court in Missouri. Furthermore, women could not vote in the state until the 1919 presidential election.
My research investigates whether these restrictions on women are reflected in the probate files for the year 1900 in the city of St. Louis. I chose that city in part because it was the fourth largest city in the United States at that time, and in part because its probate files are available online.
The complete article may be found here