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Today Blackstone's account of marital status law is notorious: evidence of feudal and patriarchal traditions once enshrined in the common law. For centuries the common law of coverture gave husbands rights in their wives' property and earnings, and prohibited wives from contracting, filing suit, drafting wills, or holding property in their own names. During the nineteenth century, however, statutes enacted in the United States and England gave wives the capacity to enter into legal transactions and granted them rights in their property and earnings. Yet the married women's property acts and earnings statutes did not fully emancipate wives from the common law of marital status. While scholars have long described the reform of coverture as elevating married women from relations of "status to contract," this article will instead consider how statutory reform modernized the common law of marital status to accord with gender mores in the industrial era.
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