The Latest in Women

Today in history: Nation’s first pre-nuptial? Newlyweds sign statement denouncing woman’s loss of legal existence after marriage…on this day in 1855

Lucy Stone is known to women’s history not only as one of the most important workers for suffrage and other women’s rights in the 19th century and as a prominent abolitionist, but also as the first woman to keep her own name after marriage.

When Lucy Stone married Henry Blackwell on May 1, 1855, the  following was signed by both of them. The Reverend who performed the marriage, not only read the statement at the ceremony, but also distributed it to other ministers as a model that he urged other couples to follow.

While acknowledging our mutual affection by publicly assuming the relationship of husband and wife, yet in justice to ourselves and a great principle, we deem it a duty to declare that this act on our part implies no sanction of, nor promise of voluntary obedience to such of the present laws of marriage, as refuse to recognize the wife as an independent, rational being, while they confer upon the husband an injurious and unnatural superiority, investing him with legal powers which no honorable man would exercise, and which no man should possess. We protest especially against the laws which give to the husband:

  1. The custody of the wife’s person.
  1. The exclusive control and guardianship of their children.
  1. The sole ownership of her personal, and use of her real estate, unless previously settled upon her, or placed in the hands of trustees, as in the case of minors, lunatics, and idiots.
  1. The absolute right to the product of her industry.
  1. Also against laws which give to the widower so much larger and more permanent interest in the property of his deceased wife, than they give to the widow in that of the deceased husband.
  1. Finally, against the whole system by which “the legal existence of the wife is suspended during marriage,” so that in most States, she neither has a legal part in the choice of her residence, nor can she make a will, nor sue or be sued in her own name, nor inherit property.

We believe that personal independence and equal human rights can never be forfeited, except for crime; that marriage should be an equal and permanent partnership, and so recognized by law; that until it is so recognized, married partners should provide against the radical injustice of present laws, by every means in their power…