Women and the Law

Colonial Era to Reconstruction

(HITO 192)

Prof. Rebecca Jo Plant

Fall 2006

M/W 4-4:50 p.m. in HSS 5068

 Course description

This one-unit seminar focuses on important trials and laws that reveal the subordinate legal status of American women from colonial times through the 1870s. Two of the cases that we will consider involve famous women: the religious dissenter Anne Hutchinson, who was banished from Massachusetts in 1637 after refusing to defer to the colony’s male authorities; and the suffragist Susan B. Anthony, who was sued by the federal government for voting in the 1872 national elections.  The other cases involve “ordinary” women who, for a wide range of reasons, figured in courtroom dramas: a young woman who died due to a botched abortion; the wife of a Loyalist whose son sued to regain property that had been seized from her during the American Revolution; a mother who opposed her former husband’s demand for custody of their children; and a slave woman who killed her owner after being subjected to sexual abuse. 


There are no written assignments for this seminar.  Students will be expected to attend all seminar meetings and to be prepared to discuss the material in an informed and thoughtful manner. Each student will also be responsible for introducing the readings once during the quarter.

Contacting Prof. Plant

email: rplant@ucsd.edu          
Phone: 534-8920
Office hours: W 10am-noon, HSS 6016       

Weekly schedule

9/25 Introduction

William Blackstone, “Of Husband and Wife,” chapter 15 in Commentaries on the Laws of England


10/2 The trial of Anne Hutchinson (1637)


10/9 The Grosvenor–Session case (1742) 

Cornelia Dayton, “Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an 18th-Century New England Village,” William and Mary Quarterly, 48 (1991): 19-49


10/16 Martin vs. Massachusetts (1805) 

Linda Kerber, “The Paradox of Women’s Citizenship in the Early Republic: The Case of Martin vs. Massachusetts, 1805” American Historical Review, 97:2 (April 1992): 349-78 

10/23 Commonwealth of Pennsylvania vs. Addicks (1813) and (1816) 


Excerpt from Mary Ann Mason, From Father’s Property to Children’s Rights: The History of Child Custody in the United States, New York: Columbia University, 1996 

10/30 New York Married Women’s Property Act (1848)


Carole Shammas, “Re-Assessing the Married Women's Property Acts,” Journal of Women's History 6 (1994): 9–30 

11/6 Missouri vs. Celia (1855) 


Annette Gordon-Reed, “Celia’s Case” in Race on Trial: Law and Justice in American History, New York: Oxford University Press, 2002, pp. 48-60

11/13 United States v. Susan B. Anthony (1873)