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In every state, the legal status of free women depended upon marital status.Unmarried women, including widows, were called “femes soles,” or “women alone.” They had the legal right to live where they pleased and to support themselves in any occupation that did not require a license or a college degree restricted to males.
Few mortgagors or buyers would enter into an agreement without the wife’s consent.
They knew that she retained her right to be maintained by the property in the event of her husband’s death, even if he died insolvent.
But even in the South, a rising number of freed black women theoretically enjoyed the same privileges under the law as white women.
However, racial prejudice against both black and Native American women made it difficult to ensure these rights in practice.
This was usually defined as two dresses (so she would have one to wear while the other was being washed), cooking utensils, and a bed.
Women’s rights to —the lands and buildings that constituted most wealth in the early national period—were more extensive than their rights to personalty.
Women had no protection when their husbands proved irresponsible.
If creditors pursued a husband for debts, his wife was entitled to keep only the bare necessities of life.
So long as they remained unmarried, women could sue and be sued, write wills, serve as guardians, and act as executors of estates.
These rights were a continuation of the colonial legal tradition.