From Library Journal
When spouses went to court in 19th-century America, the courts were not, as some would have it, instruments of a hegemonic "covert political theory." Instead, according to Princeton's Hartog, judges improvised with the materials of law to address the conflicts of particular husbands and wives separated or at odds thanks to "strangers, seductions, abuse, and neglect." As society changed, so did the law, and the concept of coverture, whereby a wife's legal identity was "covered over" by that of her husband, gave way to a more expansive view of a woman's rights. Mining more than a century of case records, Hartog (Public Property and Private Power) has written a book that will be an essential purchase for upper-level academic collections in legal or gender history.
-Robert F. Nardini, Chichester, NH
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Hartog, a history and law professor, examines the most basic social institution from a legal standpoint. He reviews important, precedent-setting cases that have formed American law on marriage and also examines the social context that produced the laws. Marital law has been set primarily by the states, influenced by custom and religion, and, during the period of territorial expansion, attracting population. California's community property law, for example, started as an effort to attract white women out west during the gold rush period when women were scarce. Hartog examines periods when women and children were considered the property of the husband, when a man could blithely move from state to state and remarry with little legal consequence because the wife was subject to the law where the husband resided, not where she herself resided. Hartog charts the changes in law from the time when a woman's legal identity derived from her husband to no-fault divorces and economic and social (e.g., feminism) trends in this interesting look at the legal institution of marriage. Vanessa Bush
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