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When the American feminist movement is discussed in legal circles, conversation often proceeds as if women first organized to seek equality during our lifetimes. But it was in the years before the Civil War that a "woman's rights" movement first demanded equality at law. Those who do acknowledge the existence of this early woman's rights movement generally assume that its demands were satisfied long ago, with the reform of marital status law and the amendment of the Constitution to allow women to vote. Yet, as the remarks of Antoinette Brown Blackwell suggest, nineteenth-century feminists raised questions in their time that are still alive in our own. This Article examines a nineteenth-century feminist claim that legislatures refused to recognize and historians have since overlooked: the claim that wives were entitled to property rights in their household labor. In exploring the life and demise of this rights discourse, I offer a political history of housework at the dawn of the industrial era, and an account of the earliest feminist politics of women's work.
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