The Mississippi Married Women's Property Acts of 1839, 1846, and 1857 reflected the desire of the Mississippi patriarchy to protect themselves from economic instabilities. Analysis of women's deeds in Jefferson county, Mississippi, from 1792 to 1871 and the rulings of the Mississippi High Court of Error and Appeals demonstrate the patriarchy's attempt to balance their desire for preservation of power with honor's demands that patriarchs provide for their families. The MWPA gave women the right to own property in their own names but restricted their ability to use and alienate that property. This made women property owners in name only, an action that preserved a portion of a family's estate which husbands controlled but which could not be taken from them. Women benefited in small ways from men's desire to protect personal wealth in Jefferson county. Women's property transactions there rose over the century—the increase roughly correlating with the passage of the 1839 law and its amendments. Court cases reveal that men and women acted as it best suited them financially employing the MWPA pragmatically rather than deliberately to widen women's sphere. The 1846 amendment essentially constitutes the legislature's response to these individual interpretations of the law, and the 1857 amendment is a digest of further additions and clarifications of the MWPA by the High Court itself. Legislative action and High Court rulings clarify the intent behind the MWPA regarding women's place and role in family and society. It is evident that the design of the law was not to bring gender equality to property law or to recognize the wife as a separate entity within the marriage This is the message of the various versions of the Mississippi MWPA and the resultant court decisions: vesting property in an inert owner ensures that it will be safe from the claims of predacious creditors and therefore available in perpetuity. The Mississippi MWPA in essence designated married women as a sure investment for their families' financial preservation.



College and Department

Family, Home, and Social Sciences; History



Date Submitted


Document Type





Married Women, Property Acts, Coverture, Mississippi Women's Property Law



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