Coverture (sometimes spelled couverture) was a legal doctrine whereby, upon marriage, a woman's legal rights and obligations were subsumed by those of her husband, in accordance with the wife's legal status of feme covert. An unmarried woman, a feme sole, had the right to own property and make contracts in her own name.
Coverture was enshrined in the common law of England for several centuries and throughout most of the 19th century, influencing some other common-law jurisdictions. According to Arianne Chernock, coverture did not apply in Scotland, but whether it applied in Wales is unclear.
After the rise of feminism in the mid-19th century, coverture came under increasing criticism as oppressive towards women, hindering them from exercising ordinary property rights and entering professions. Coverture was first substantially modified by late 19th century Married Women's Property Acts passed in various common-law legal jurisdictions, and was weakened and eventually eliminated by subsequent reforms. Certain aspects of coverture (mainly concerned with preventing a wife from unilaterally incurring major financial obligations for which her husband would be liable) survived as late as the 1960s in some states of the United States.
American History USA Articles
- What was Coverture? Understanding the Rights of Women in Early America
Coverture was a principle of English common law in which a married woman could not own property, sign contracts, control the use of any wages earned, or devise a will.
- COVERTURE: An entry from Thomson Gale's West's Encyclopedia of American Law
- Married Women and the Law: Coverture in England and the Common Law World - Tim Stretton