Crawford County, Pennsylvania


Courthouse
PETITIONS OF MARRIED WOMEN
© Thomas L. Yoset
LISTING   ·   INTRODUCTION   ·   ABSTRACTS

    Married women in Pennsylvania were granted the right to control their separate estates by a statute enacted in 1848.1  The state’s highest court nevertheless decided in 1872 that a woman’s separate earnings remained the property of her husband,2 unless she qualified as a feme sole trader.3  The legislature responded by passing an act “Securing to married women their separate earnings,” which became law on 3 April 1872.4  The purposes of the 1872 Act, and the requirement that a woman be registered at the court house to claim its benefits, were set forth as follows:
    Section 1.  … That the separate earnings of any married woman of the state of Pennsylvania, whether said earnings shall be as wages for labor, salary, property, business or otherwise, shall accrue to and inure to the separate benefit and use of said married woman, and be under the control of such married woman independently of her husband, and so as not to be subject to any legal claim of such husband, or to the claims of any creditor or creditors of such husband, the same as if such married woman were a feme sole ….

    Section 2.  That to prevent any fraudulent practices under this act, before any married woman shall be entitled to its benefits, she shall first present her petition, under oath or affirmation, to the court of common pleas of the city or county where she resides, stating her intention of thereafter claiming the benefits of this act; whereupon the said court shall direct her petition aforesaid to be marked, filed, and to be recorded in the office for recording deeds for such city or county; and such record shall be conclusive evidence of the right of such married woman to the benefit of the first section of this act.
    The order granted petitioner Caroline R Laman is illustrative:
    And now, to wit April 9th AD 1883 the foregoing petition presented in open Court and upon consideration thereof it is ordered by the Court that the same be filed and a record thereof made in this Court, and that the same together with this order be recorded in the Office for recording deeds of this county.&nssp; And it is further ordered that the petitioner Caroline R Laman shall hereafter be entitled to the benefits of the Act of Assembly … approved April 3rd 1872, and that hereafter the separate earnings of the petitioner Caroline R Laman, whether said earnings shall be as wages for labor, salary, property, business, or otherwise, shall accrue to and inure to the separate benefit and use of the said Caroline R Laman, independently of her husband John J. Laman and so as not to be subject to any legal claim of her said husband or to the claims of any creditor or creditors of her said husband, the same as if the said Caroline R Laman were a feme sole.  Per Cur[ium, i.e., by the Court].
    Abstracted here are the ninety-two petitions presented prior to 1906 in the Crawford County Court of Common Pleas.5  Seventy-nine of the petitions and orders were recorded in the Office of the Recorder of Deeds in a book titled “Records of Petitions of Married Women,” hereafter M.W.Bk.  After recording, the documents were apparently often returned to the petitioner or her attorney, for many are missing from common pleas records, as noted in the abstracts by “[no papers].”  The abstracts were made from the recorded versions and appearance docket entries wherever the court papers could not be located (in attic storage).6


1  Act No. 372, §§ 6-11, 1848 Pa. Laws 536, approved 11 April 1848.

2 Speakman’s Appeal, 71 Pa. 25, 29 (7 Feb. 1872) (probably dictum).

3  See Black v. Tricker, 59 Pa. 13, 17 (1868).  See generallyFeme Sole Traders.“

4  Act No. 24, 1872 Pa. Laws 35, hereinafter the 1872 Act.

5  The petitions, listed here in alphabetical order, were located by examining the appearance docket (“App. Dk.”) summaries for all nineteenth-century common pleas court cases.  Women continued petitioning through at least 1929, despite passage of the Married Persons Property Act of 3 June 1887, P.L. 224 (1887 Pa. Laws 332-33), which proclaimed that “property of every kind [except real estate] owned, acquired or earned by a woman, before or during her marriage, shall belong to her and not to her husband, or his creditors.”

6  One petition (Zeller) was found among miscellaneous papers in the Recorder’s basement storage area.