Before married women's property acts were passed, upon marriage a woman lost any right to control property that was hers prior to the marriage, nor did she have rights to acquire any property during marriage. A married woman could not make contracts, keep or control her own wages or any rents, transfer property, sell property or bring any lawsuit.
Before 1848, a few laws were passed in some states in the U.S. giving women some limited property rights, but the 1848 law was more comprehensive. It was amended to include even more rights in 1860; later, married women's rights to control property were extended still more.
The text of the 1848 New York Statute known as the Married Women's Property Act, as amended in 1849, reads in full:
An act for the more effectual protection of the property of married women:
§1. The real property of any female who may hereafter marry, and which she shall own at the time of marriage, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, shall not be subject to the sole disposal of her husband, nor be liable for his debts, and shall continue her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female.
§2. The real and personal property, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, of any female now married, shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband; but shall be her sole and separate property, as if she were a single female, except so far as the same may be liable for the debts of her husband heretofore contracted.
§3. Any married female may take by inheritance, or by gift, grant, devise, or bequest, from any person other than her husband, and hold to her sole and separate use, and convey and devise real and personal property, and any interest or estate therein, and the rents, issues, and profits thereof, in the same manner and with like effect as if she were unmarried, and the same shall not be subject to the disposal of her husband nor be liable for his debts.
- In 1837, Thomas Herttell, a New York city judge, attempted to pass in the New York Assembly a bill to give married women more property rights.