From this article we find another interesting discovery from the past. I did not add much commentary as this is one of those pieces that speaks for itself."In section 51 of the Domestic Relation law, 1909, we read:A married woman has all the rights in respect to property, real or personal, and the acquisition, use, enjoyment, and disposition thereof, to make contract in respect thereto with any person, including her husband and to carry on any business, trade, or occupation, and to exercise all powers and enjoy all rights in respect there to, an in respect to her contracts, and be liable on such contracts as if she were unmarried; but a husband and wife cannot contract to dissolve the marriage or to relieve the husband from his liability to support his wife."This bold line is the gem of the article. Despite our modern understanding and before feminism fully took root, it turns out married women had quite a plethora of "rights" 100 years ago. Given women weren't writing the laws back then and feminism did not have much of cultural influence just yet, it seems the men bestowed women these rights on their own accord. In doing so, they covered women so well that they even put themselves at a disadvantage by insisting that a husband is not to be "relieved of his liability to support his wife", despite what she may accomplish or wealth she may accumulate on her own. Were men the alleged tyrants claimed back then, I would think they would leave that part out.
A fundamental difference in views today stem from whether you believe the family or the individual is the driving unit of society. Supposedly, those days of patriarchy or men leading/controlling their families are mostly behind us, so therefore you would think that the husband/father no longer holds the responsibility for the welfare of the family. Not quite, as the above demonstrates. While we are talking 1909, I believe an undercurrent of that notion still exists. Women were relieved from their alleged burdensome responsibilities of living under a patriarchy, but conveniently have kept men in their role of being responsible for their welfare, despite any wealth women accumulate on their own. Were we really to get rid of patriarchy, women would have to step up to the plate and assume the responsibility for the family's welfare regardless of how much money men brought in or acquired on their own."The common law on which the law of the State is based has always recognized the family as the social unit, and held the husband and father responsible for its welfare. There is in the minds of some persons at present and Mrs. Johnston-Wood seems to be one of the number, a disposition to ignore or decline to recognize, this point of view, and to declare that the individual, in contradistinction to the family, is the social unit."
Men supposedly had it so good back then and women so bad, yet the welfare of the family was entirely the man's responsibility. This is no small or easy job. What if we were to start new laws where the family unit was still held as the basis of society, but rather women were solely responsible for the welfare of the family and no matter how much her husband may have amassed his own "individual estate", she could not be relieved of her liability to support him. I imagine such laws would be deemed sexist as it would be placing an unfair burden on women. Yet when unfair burdens are placed on men, this is perfectly normal and just."To insist upon reviewing the law as it stands while refusing to recognize the spirit which gave it birth, and to look at it through the distorted medium of deliberate misunderstand, is as foolish and misleading as it is disingenuous, and quite unworthy of even a special pleader. Because the husband and father was and is responsible for the subsistence of his wife and family therefore he was recognized as logically the proper person to administer and inherit the property of the family; but as time wore away the barriers raised for protection had become coercive between the family and the world and industrial life began to call women out of the home, and property amassed by the wife was claimed by the husband and used sometimes for his benefit rather than hers, the gradual changes began to take place which have in the last thirty or forty years entirely changed the relation of the wife toward property and the guardianship of her children. The change has all been in the favor of the wife and mother, and one after another the privileges which men had over the property of their wives and the guardianship of their children have not only been lost but many of them have been actually reversed. The legal relations are as though they were unmarried, excepting that they cannot alter or dissolve the marriage. The wife cannot release the husband from the obligation to support her.
"....I wish to call attention to the fact that throughout these laws it is assumed as an unalterable condition that when a man marries and makes a woman the mother of his children he thereby incurs the responsibility which the wife never shares no matter how much property she may have. For over thirty years a woman has been able to hold and enjoy her separate property, however acquired, even when it has been given by her husband, freed from any interference or control by him, and from all liability for his debts. A husband is, however, liable for necessaries purchased by his wife and also for money given his wife by a third person to purchase necessaries, and he is bound to support her and her children without regard to her individual or separate estate. Even when a separation occurs a husband is compelled through the payment of alimony to continue to support his wife, nothing short of infidelity on her part and consequence divorce relieve him of that liability. No obligation, however, to furnish necessaries to a husband rests upon the wife under any circumstances whatever.
A woman may sell, assign, or transfer her real and personal property and carry on any trade or business and perform and labor and service on her separate account and her earnings are her own sole and separate property. Mrs. Johnston-Wood says that the "joint earnings of husband and wife belong to the husband", but she forgets to add that out of those joint earnings the wife must be supported and that if they are large enough to be invested in real estate it becomes impossible for the husband to sell or devise it except subject to her dower right. Through this "dower right" Mrs. Johnston-Wood complains that a husband is obliged to lease only one-third of his real estate to his wife, and that she has only a life interest in it. But this right of hers attaches to any her owns at the time of marriage, or acquires during the marriage, and no act of his can divest her of it. On the other hand she can buy, sell, give or will away her real property as freely as though she were unmarried without any right to interference by him, and without any claim of his upon it. This "dower right" is a very real and active line upon a husband's estate, while the so-called "courtesy right," which is supposed to offset it, is a very shadowy affair, and has been so seldom exercised as to make it difficult to find authorities defining its exact limits and privileges. A husband has no right to any of his wife's estate until after the birth of a living child, and this right is so lightly considered that a wife may absolutely defeat it at any time without the consent of her husband, either by conveying her real property during her lifetime or by devising it by will. Should he inherit through "courtesy" right, his too is only a life interest. A husband is not obliged to leave his personal property to his wife, but neither is the wife obliged to leave any to her husband. There is no "discrimination against", they stand on equality.
Mrs. Johnston-Wood complains that a woman cannot make a binding contract with her husband to be paid for her services. But she doesn't need to do so. He is obliged to support her, but she can go into any business she pleases, keep all the profits and still demand support from him. A husband has no claim against his wife's estate for having supported her, but if she supports him, as by keeping a boarding house and he acknowledges the debt, she has a valid claim for reimbursement against his estate.
Generally speaking the rights of a wife against her husband are such as he cannot deprive her of, while his rights against her depend entirely upon her consent and she can deprive him of them at any time with the greatest ease."