When your money is not your own: coverture and married women in business in colonial New South Wales

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Abstract

In 1860 and again in 1864, Alexander Spiers appeared before the insolvency court in Sydney, endeavoring to explain his failure in business. He was described as a milliner in the records but he had never made a bonnet in his life. The real milliner and businesswoman was his wife, Ann Spiers, who had been running her business since her marriage in 1846. She made purchasing and pricing decisions, managed staff, was the front person in the shop, and advertised in newspapers. She told the insolvency court in 1860 that her husband used to keep the books and attend to the house business but he never sold anything in the shop. He used to mark the goods occasionally. Alexander Spiers similarly distanced himself. My wife put the value upon the articles in our stock, he said. She is much better acquainted with their value than myself. In spite of this, it was Alexander Spiers' name that was on the insolvency papers. Under the law of coverture, he was responsible for his wife's debts and her business legally belonged to him.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)181-200
Number of pages20
JournalLaw and History Review
Volume33
Issue number1
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

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