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Reflections on the common law doctrine of coverture and the contemporary economic subordination of women

Griffiths, Rhonda Frances (1998) Reflections on the common law doctrine of coverture and the contemporary economic subordination of women. Masters by Research thesis, Murdoch University.

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This thesis concerns the institution of marriage, as defined by law. It considers the rule known as the doctrine of coverture. By this rule, a wife had no separate legal identity during marriage (the aspect of coverture known as the doctrine of unity) and her person and her estate came under the control of her husband (coverture); The conventional view is that reforming legislation of the late 19th century repealed the significant effects of the doctrines of coverture and unity and that what remained were anachronistic remnants of past legal practice.

The thesis argues that the reforms of the late 19th century did not repeal the reality of coverture, and that in fact it continued to operate until well into the 20th century. In particular the continued operation of coverture is seen in the status of dependency as defined in legal concepts. Dependency means that a person is reliant on another to support them, without having a ’legal’ entitlement to income of their own.

Explored in the thesis is the manner in which coverture affects the treatment in law, of work done in the home. It is argued that coverture has been a significant means by which the law has been involved in obscuring the economic value of work done in the home.

Sources for the research are selected legal writings from the period during which the doctrine reached its zenith in the 18th century, to the present. The contemporary experience in Australia is considered, against the backdrop of the shared heritage of the common law jurisdictions. The discussion is informed by a feminist analysis.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters by Research)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): Division of Social Sciences, Humanities and Education
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Supervisor(s): Harris, Patricia
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