Seminar – Exercising Legal Personhood: Examining the Impact of Married Women’s Property Act 1884, 18 August 2023

Exercising Legal Personhood: Examining the Impact of Married Women’s Property Act 1884

Presented by Elizabeth Bowyer

Friday 18 August | 12.00–1.30pm | History Programme Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington, OK406 & Online

In October 1884 New Zealand followed wider trends of legislative reform addressing women’s legal position across the common law world by passing its version of the Married Women’s Property Act. Prior to the Act’s passing, when a Māori or Pākehā woman married a settler man in New Zealand, she became subject to the doctrine of coverture, a legal doctrine inherited from the English common law that subsumed a married woman’s official legal status into that of her husband’s and hindered her ability to own or control property. Increasing recognition of covertures flexibility though has broken apart the idea that women were simply absent from the legal and economic spheres as a result of what eighteenth century jurist William Blackstone famously dubbed the “suspension” of women’s legal existence in marriage. This scholarship has sat alongside work that recognises covertures different application across time, space, and colonial settings and questions the lived impact of legislative change that concerned married women’s relationship with property. This talk examines women’s participation in contractual litigation involving moveable property in colonial New Zealand and women’s ability to operate as legal persons under colonial law both before and after legislative reform.  

Elizabeth Bowyer is a PhD Candidate in the History Programme at Te Herenga Waka – Victoria University of Wellington. Her research explores the interactions between law, gender, race, marriage, property and settler colonialism.

More information can be found here.