In English and American law, coverture refers to women's legal status after marriage: legally, upon marriage, the husband and wife were treated as one entity. In essence, the wife's separate legal existence disappeared as far as property rights were concerned.
Under coverture, wives could not control their own property unless specific provisions were made before marriage, they could not file lawsuits or be sued separately, nor could they execute contracts. The husband could use, sell or dispose of her property (again, unless prior provisions were made) without her permission.
See the entry on property rights for some events in American legal history which extended women's property rights and affected coverture laws.
Sir William Blackstone, in his 1765 authoritative legal text, Commentaries on the Laws of England, said this about coverture and the legal rights of married women:
"By marriage, the husband and wife are one person in law: that is, the very being or legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least incorporated and consolidated into that of the husband: under whose wing, protection, and cover, she performs every thing; and is therefore called ... a feme-covert...."