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Class Year

2008

Abstract

The legal status of American women has consistently been portrayed as a linear progression flowing from a colonial jurisprudential repression and exclusion to a modern-day legal equity and a female influence within every aspect of justice. In this narrative of sequentially gained status, seventeenth-century Puritan law has stood as the exemplar of America’s most repressive jurisprudential treatment of women. However, when its characteristics are triangulated and its subordination of women is juxtaposed with its inclusion of a female voice, a new conception of America’s first legal system is seen. The notion of a linear progression is thus replaced with an understanding that the modern day equity enjoyed by women is a product of extensive legal fluctuation. Puritan women were clearly characterized as the subordinate gender and their secondary status evidenced in the symbolic silencing of heretical females and in legal coverture. However, stemming from the Puritan concept of a “Godly-society” attained through equitable legal status, New England women enjoyed liberal divorce laws and a significant presence within the court room when compared with contemporary England and the nineteenth century jurisprudence, which relegated women to the non-public sphere. Thus, as Laurel Thatcher Ulrich emphasizes, we “need to move from static concepts like “patriarchal New England society” to more intricate questions about the interplay of values and practice over time. Zion’s daughters have for too long been hidden.”

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