The American colonies adopted the British common law of feme-covert or coverture which determined that women were covered legally by their husbands through marriage. There were other restrictive laws that applied to unmarried women and widows. According to the law of feme-coverture, married women could not engage in lawsuits, enter into business contracts, buy sell or have control over any property even that which she had bought before marriage. During this period, motherhood was considered as women’s primary role and marriage resulted to economic and legal subordination of women. After marriage a woman’s property including personal possessions, wages earned and children became the property of her husband.
The American Revolution brought no change in women’s legal status but in the early 1800s some states begun to change their laws in order to adjust women’s new economic roles. For instance in 1809 Connecticut passed a law allowing women to execute their own wills whereas in 1839 Mississippi allowed women some right to own property.
During the colonial period women’s roles in the society were to cook meals, make household goods such as soap, make clothing, cleaning, taking care of animals and tending to kitchen gardens. Wealthy and middle class women performed some of these chores but majority of them were carried out by servants. Young women were married at the age of 13 or 14 while widows were usually married within a year of their husband’s death. In some US states widows were allowed to marry within 7 years after their husband’s death; however this was not always the case. Widows were only entitled to a third of their late husband’s property.
Women began campaigns against total male superiority in 1600s. During the mid-1700s women organizations were actively involved in politics. Women organizations also played a large role during the war as the developed clothing and other materials needed by the patriotic soldiers. The colonial times were difficult times for women in America however it is during this period that women began fighting for their rights.