P001-M01_058-1850.1 | Acte de depôt by David R. McCord, Esq. of a Contract of Marriage between him & Miss Letitia C. Chambers, 24th January, 1879
Acte de depôt by David R. McCord, Esq. of a Contract of Marriage between him & Miss Letitia C. Chambers, 24th January, 1879
1879, 19th century
35 x 21.6 cm
Gift of the McCord Family
© McCord Museum
Keywords: Contract (1) , Miscellaneous (671)
Keys to History
"The natural rights of man and woman are, it must be admitted, equal; entering the married state, the woman surrenders most of them; in the possession of civil rights before, they merge in her husband; in the eye of the law she may be said to cease to exist."
Although this description of married women's legal status was written in 1856, it changed little during the 1867-96 period. Women slowly gained the right to hold property in their own name, but once they signed a marriage contract, they signed away their right to exist as a legal entity.
This meant that women were unable to file a lawsuit, open a business without their husband's written permission or even have their own bank account.
Source : Straitlaced: Restrictions on Women [Web tour], by Elise Chenier, McGill University (see Links)
In the absence of a marriage contract, a husband automatically gained legal control of all goods and property acquired during the marriage, with the exception of land and goods his wife inherited from her own family.
This contract was drawn up and signed in Quebec, where marriage was subject to the civil code, not the English common law that governed the other provinces and territories.
A marriage contract was typically drawn up just days, and sometimes even hours, before the actual wedding ceremony took place.
Contracts were used by women to secure greater control over their personal belongings in marriage. A woman's family, and particularly her father, usually played a major role in negotiating how the property rights were to be distributed in the marriage.