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Women Under California Laws (1911)

This item appeared in the June 1911 issue of The Western Woman Voter newspaper.

A brief examination of the status of women under the laws of California will convince anyone of two things: First, that women had no part in making these laws, and second, that she should have had a part, for they determine the conditions under which she must live.

The most progressive legislature that ever met in California this winter changed these laws concerning women in only two particulars: It passed the eight-hour law and it increased the penalty for stealing girls. But in submitting to the voters an amendment granting suffrage to women, this legislature of 1911 has made possible an improvement in all the laws.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

The following outline of the laws of California as related to women has been examined by several lawyers and found to be correct:

Fathers Sole Guardians

One of the most unjust and unreasonable laws that California imposes upon women, is the one making fathers sole guardians or custodians of minor children. The care, custody, control, education and services of minor children belong legally to the father alone if parents live together. Illegitimate children are under the control of the mother.

A man can no longer will away his unborn child in any state.

A child’s inheritance of money has been provided for, and the courts appoint a property guardian. This must not be confused with general guardianship. The father is sole custodian.

Court decisions are often reported where young children have been given by the court to the mother. This does not prove that the mother had any legal share in the custody of her children prior to the decision. It proves that when a family is torn to pieces, the judge awards the pieces.

Besides the direct results upon mother and child, of the sole guardianship law, there is an indirect result that is wholly wicked. It is the threat a bad husband may hold over his wife , that he will do so and so to the child, unless the wife submits to his will absolutely. He has the law on his side. She has no redress except an appeal to the courts . This usually implies action for divorce.

In the “Naramore tragedy” of Massachusetts in 1901, a mother became desperate when the father planned to separate the children from her and from each other. She killed all six of them with an axe and then tried to suicide. This tragedy aroused Massachusetts, and a joint guardianship law was passed.

Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have laws making fathers and mothers joint guardians with equal responsibility and authority.

(Joint guardianship bills failed of passage in the legislature of 1909 and 1911.)

Minority of Girls

A girl’s minority ends at eighteen, while a boy is a minor until he is twenty-one. This is unfair to the girl. The age of minority is a protection. It is no favor to remove this legal protection from girls three years earlier than it is ended for boys. The age of majority should be the same for both sexes.

(Bills to make the age of minority of girls the same as for boys failed of passage in the legislatures of 1909 and 1911.)

Contract Rights

A woman may make any legal contract a man may make. The courts have decided she is a person and a citizen, though not a voter.

Unmarried Women

A woman who is unmarried suffers no injustice as to property rights. She may hold property, engage in business, and will property as freely as a man.

An unmarried woman has the same right that a man has, married or unmarried, of relinquishing citizenship in the country of her birth; or of her father, and enrolling as a citizen in the country of her choice.

Citizenship of Married Woman

Marriage gives to a woman the citizenship of her husband. An American girl who marries a Frenchman, becomes a foreigner.

Marriage has no effect upon a man’s citizenship.

However, a wife may apply for naturalization, and may secure it even without the consent of her husband.

Separate Property

A wife may hold separate property. All that she had before marriage (provided care is taken to separate it in the beginning and to keep it separate) all that she may receive as gift or inheritance, is separate property. This may be kept in her name alone, and is wholly under her control. A husband may hold separate property under similar conditions.


A homestead may be declared by either husband or wife , its value being limited to $5,000. The furniture of the home, and the clothing of wife and children are community property, but may not be sold without the consent of the wife .

Community Property

All earnings of husband and wife are community property. If this were really held in common, it would belong to both partners. But community property is under control of the husband alone. Calling it community or common is small comfort, since the husband controls it just as long as he may live.

The only restrictions placed upon the husband are that he shall not give such property away, and cannot will it all away. He can will away half of it.

Wife Cannot Will Community Property

But the wife cannot will away the other half. The half he cannot will away she can have if she outlives him. If he dies first, she loses the shadow of title she had alive. While he lives, she cannot control a dollar of community property, even though it is a dollar she earned. If she dies first, she cannot will any part of so-called community property to anybody. Her death removes all restrictions, and gives it all to him absolutely.

Wife’ s Signature Not Necessary

It is a matter of common knowledge that the wife is required to sign deeds when the husband sells property. Many people wrongly believe that this signature is necessary, and that it implies a degree of control by the wife , even a half interest in the property. These conclusions are false.

If she did not sign the deed, there would be a possibility of a suit over the title, in order to prove that the property was sold for a valuable consideration, since the husband cannot give it away. To prevent a possible suit with cost and delay, the lawyer and buyer require the wife’ s signature. But the action is only a precaution. Wives have tried in vain to recover a share in so-called community property sold without their knowledge.


A husband is bound to support his wife. A wife is bound to support her husband when he cannot support himself. Her separate property is liable for certain community debts.

“Sole Trader”

A married woman may become a sole trader by certain legal steps, at some expense, and with humiliation. As such she may control her earnings and business as an independent individual.


Divorce may be granted for any of the following causes: Adultery, extreme cruelty, wilful desertion, wilful neglect, habitual intemperance, or conviction of felony.

Women Students

Women are admitted on the same terms as men to all departments of the State University.

Women Office Holders

Women are eligible to school office throughout the state. Half the county superintendents of schools are women. Women serve as school trustees. Women are lawyers, doctors and ministers in churches of all denominations except three. No law prevents their serving as jurors. In 1900 the first woman physician was appointed to care for women in one of the state hospitals for the insane, though thousands of the patients have always been women.

Eight-hour Law for Women and Girls

The new law limiting to eight hours a day the time women and girls may work at nearly all kinds of labor became effective May 21, 1911. It has been carefully drawn to prevent its being declared unconstitutional by the courts .

“Age of Consent”

“The age of consent” is sixteen years. A girl cannot legally sell any property at sixteen, but she can consent to the loss of her virtue. Girls are often stolen or seduced, but convictions are extremely rare. The codes protect clams and lobsters and fish and birds, but they fail to protect girls sufficiently, and the courts have failed to punish those who trade in girls as sex slaves. The maximum penalty for stealing a pig is five years. Until 1911 it was the same penalty for stealing a girl. Now girl stealing may be punished by ten years, the same as stealing a mule or a calf.

California Women Have no Votes

Women have not even school suffrage in California. They are not allowed to vote for school trustee. Women have votes in 29 states. Three of these are tax-paying suffrage; three are school and tax-paying suffrage; 18 have some form of school suffrage. One state has municipal suffrage. Five states have votes for men and women on equal terms.

What is the Earliest Date at Which Women May Vote?

A woman’s suffrage amendment has passed the legislature with a heavy majority in each house. October 10, 1911, is the date of the special election on all amendments. A majority of votes cast for the suffrage amendment will carry it. Every vote counts toward the total. Amendments take effect immediately.

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Darby Orcutt
Assistant Head, Collections & Research Strategy
North Carolina State University Libraries

Darby Orcutt is Assistant Head, Collections & Research Strategy, NC State University Libraries, Faculty, University Honors Program, Affiliated Faculty, Center for Innovative Management Studies, Affiliated Faculty, Genetic Engineering & Society Center, and Affiliated Faculty, Leadership in Public Science Cluster, as well as recently served as the Associate Chair of the Faculty of NC State. A national leader in developing models for access to proprietary and use-limited data for content mining and computational research, his current work revolves primarily around research support and engagement for interdisciplinary teams.

Markus Wust
University of Tübingen (Germany)

Markus Wust is a librarian at the University of Tübingen (Germany) where he heads the information/reference team and teaches at the “Dr. Eberle Zentrum für digitale Kompetenzen” (Dr. Eberle Center for Digital Competencies). He is also a regular instructor at the Digital Humanities Summer Institute at the University of Victoria, BC, Canada. He holds a Master’s Degree in German Literature from the University of Georgia (Athens, GA) as well as Master’s degrees in Library and Information Studies and Humanities Computing from the University of Alberta (Edmonton, AB).

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Accessible Archives Year of Technology: Software Upgrades Completed!

Malvern, PA (September 17, 2019)  Accessible Archives, Inc., a digital publisher of full-text primary source historical collections, announces the completion of upgrades to our software! This will provide an improved user experience and security.

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Throughout 2019, Unlimited Priorities has been coordinating the development, management, and implementation of Accessible Archives’ “Year of Technology.”

At the beginning of the year, Unlimited Priorities supervised the technology development and execution necessary to accommodate Accessible Archives’ customer demands for IPv6 technology, in addition to the current IPv4.

In the early Spring, Unlimited Priorities, working with Stephanie Orphan, Portico’s Director of Publisher Relations, coordinated the testing, managed contract negotiations and facilitated the delivery of Accessible Archives’ content to Portico.  This step was taken to ensure that Accessible Archives’ unparalleled collections would remain accessible to its customers regardless of any situation.

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Unlimited Priorities LLC
Bob Lester
Unlimited Priorities LLC


News Brevities in Frank Leslie’s Weekly (March 1870)

Frank Leslie

Frank Leslie

Frank Leslie’s Weekly, later often known as Leslie’s Weekly, actually began life as Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper. Founded in 1855 and continued until 1922, it was an American illustrated literary and news publication, and one of several started by publisher and illustrator Frank Leslie. John Y. Foster was the first editor of the Weekly, which came out on Tuesdays. While only 30 copies of the first edition were printed, by 1897 its circulation had grown to an estimated 65,000 copies.

These weekly papers were large quarto in size, about 12″ by 16″, and each consisted of sixteen pages to the issue. They followed a tested and proven formula of carefully combining elements of war, politics, art, science, travel and exploration, literature and the fine arts in each issue, enhanced with between 16 and 32 illustrations.

Throughout its decades of existence, Frank Leslie’s Weekly provided illustrations and reports — first with woodcuts and Daguerreotypes, later with more advanced forms of photography — of wars from John Brown’s raid at Harpers Ferry and the Civil War until the Spanish-American War and the First World War. It also gave extensive coverage to less martial events such as the Klondike gold rush of 1897, the laying of the 1858 Atlantic Cable and the San Francisco earthquake.

News Brevities (March 1870)

  • CANADA has fifty-seven snow-shoe clubs.
  • PINEAPPLE fritters are a Florida delicacy.
  • BRAZILIAN troops draw rations of dog meat.
  • CHRISTMAS has been made a legal holiday in Ohio.
  • SPIRITUALISM is called “Spiritism” in Australia.
  • MACON, GA., has an ox that weighs 4,545 pounds.
  • OLLIVIER favors the abolition of capital punishment.
  • PHILADELPHIA has executed but twenty-five criminals since 1789.
  • CINCINNATI proposes to make itself a city of forty-two square miles.
  • LONDON has its first street railway. The carriages are drawn by horses.
  • MAINE has spent $21,000,000 for its six hundred and seventy-two miles of railroad.
  • MR. BURLINGAME, the Boston “Post” says, leaves a memory to be crowned only with myrtle.
  • MILWAUKEE is to have an Irish daily and weekly paper. The company has been chartered.
  • THE Chinese in San Francisco held a jubilee on January 30, the first day of the Chinese new year.
  • TWO HUNDRED of the gentlemen at a late Tuileries court ball are said to have worn hired court suits.
  • A GOTTINGEN professor has discovered some very minute diamonds in a specimen of Oregon platinum.
  • A LADY physician of Lafayette, Ind., is honest enough to return her professional income at $2,500.
  • BOSTON shipowners are signing a petition asking Congress to abolish the laws allowing extra pay to seamen.
  • THE number of skilled workmen out of employment in England is said to be between seventy and eighty thousand.
  • A LOYAL undertaker of Calcutta hoisted a huge “Welcome” over his shop-door in honor of Prince Alfred’s coming.
  • THE English soldier in India is to be allowed to wear a beard, but it must be cut periodically —that is, trimmed to a full point.
  • THE Rev. Mrs. Phœbe A. Hannaford has received and accepted a call to the pastorship of a Universalist church in New Haven.
  • THE Paris papers tell how an English lady was shown out of the Prefect’s ball because she brought her pet terrier in her handkerchief.
  • THE Board of Immigration of Honolulu have sent an agent to China to promote the immigration of the Chinese to the Sandwich Islands.
  • THE cost of telegraphic dispatches in Australia has been reduced to one shilling for twelve words, and one penny for every additional word.
  • THE Rhode Island Democratlc State Convention is to be held in Providence, on Thursday, March 17, to nominate candidates for State officers.
  • EASTERN Florida congratulates itself upon its vigor, life and spirit, indicated by its rapid growth, by its large immigration , and by the rapid increase in the value of real estate.
  • THERE were several severe shocks of earthquake recently on the Island of Hawaii. The summit of the volcano Mauna Loa is shrouded in smoke, indicating that the fires in the crater are again active.
  • THE bill endorsing the first mortgage bonds of the Mobile and Montgomery Railroad, to the amount of $2,500,000, has passed both houses of the Alabama Legislature by the constitutional majority.
  • JOHN NEAL says that out of 544 cases brought before the Superior Court of Maine, in six terms, only ninety-nine went to a jury. That is, the people preferred the decision of a judge in 405 cases.
  • THE Board of Supervisors for the County of Milwaukee, Wis., have tendered the new Court-House, to cost nearly $1,000,000, to the State for a Capitol, provided the Capital is moved to Milwaukee.
  • ON the 22d of February, outrages were committed on Chinamen in San Francisco, which threatened to produce a riot; but a heavy rain and a strong force of police combined, dispersed the gathering crowds.
  • THE Yale Navy have voted not to accept the proposition of Harvard to open the annual races to the whole university; therefore, only the academical department can be represented in the crews next summer.
  • NAVAL honors were paid by the vessels of our squadron at Hong Kong, and by the foreign vessels present at the time, to the memory of the late Mr. Stanton, Franklin Pierce, and Rear-Admiral Stewart.
  • EDWARD AND DANIEL AGNEW have been arrested in Reading, Penn., for bigamy. They have families in Philadelphia, but represented themselves in Reading as single men, and were recently married in that city.
  • AT a meeting of the presidents of three of the freight lines leading from Louisville, the tariff was reduced from sixty to fifty cents on all fourth-class fast freight. They also adopted a resolution to adhere to these rates.
  • THE Auburn “Advertiser” learns that the Auburn Theological Seminary is soon to have a library building, suited, in all respects, to its needs. The corner-stone of the Seminary was laid just fifty years ago next May.
  • REAR-ADMIRAL ROWAN, in command of the Asiatic Squadron, informs the Navy Department that all is quiet on that station, with the exception of occasional piracies and the “murder of a missionary now and then” by the Chinese .
  • THE Sacramento “Union” states that a set of railway speculators are proposing to the California Legislature to pass a law to enable them to fasten a bonded debt of $1,000,000 on the County of San Bernardino, when the whole taxable property of San Bernardino is $500,000.
  • THE workingwomen of Boston, by a unanimous vote, have passed the subjoined resolution: “That we will not become parties to any attempted encroachments on the legitimate sphere of man’s duties, and therefore we respectfully, but firmly, remonstrate against legislation in favor of suffrage for women.”
  • COL. BERNARD, with detachments of the First and Eighth U. S. Cavalry, had a series of running fights with the Indians in the Dragoon Mountain, in Arizona, on the 28th of January. Thirteen Indians were killed, and two were taken prisoners. The Indian camp and a large amount of material were destroyed.


What is Cruel Treatment? (1878)


Judge Sedgwick, of New York, has filed in a divorce suit an opinion that is novel as well as important to wives. Cruel and inhuman treatment forms one statutory cause for limited divorce, with alimony and care of children; but hitherto the current of opinion has been that this phrase signifies treatment of an exclusively physical nature.

The judge in referring to the allegations and evidence against the ill-treatment of the wife by the husband in Kennedy vs. Kennedy, said: “This constitutes cruel and inhuman treatment as meant by the statute, even if no bodily injury was done to her. There was sleeplessness and the consequences of nervous shock and derangement, which things are as definitely ‘bodily’ as the results of a blow, and last longer unless the blow is murderous. The plaintiff should have judgment for a separation.”

In this case the husband had employed his tongue as the sole weapon instead of his hand, a knife or stick.

This item, and others like it, can be found in Accessible Archive’s Women’s Suffrage Collection. We can provide access to fully searchable newspapers by and for women including The Lily (1849-1856), National Citizen and Ballot Box (1878-1881), The Revolution (1868-1872), The New Citizen (1909-1912), The Western Woman Voter (1911-1913), and the antisuffrage newspaper, The Remonstrance (1890-1913).

The rapid advance in public sentiment is truly wonderful. What a change from the time a man might beat his wife with a club or whip her with a stick as big as his thumb, down to this decision which forbids abusive language toward her. Great pains were taken in olden time to save a man from his wife’s tongue, in case she felt like using that little instrument in retaliation. There were stocks and the ducking stool for scolding wives, little implements of wife subjugation brought along by our puritan fathers to keep in due subordination the puritan mothers.

All honor to Judge Sedgwick for his decision against a husband’s cruel words, from which many a woman suffers whose husband prides himself upon the kindness with which he treats her; killing kindness, for no more “cruel and inhuman treatment” is possible than the tongue can give. Words kill.

Source: National Citizen and Ballot Box, September 1878

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