Ohio women saw a culmination of a struggle for equality in women’s property rights when the state legislature passed the Married Women’s Property Act in 1887. Though Ohio women had been able to write their own wills since 1809, this meant little for wives, whose property and wages became their husbands at marriage.
Woman’s rights activists successfully pushed for an 1845 act that protected wives’ property from being seized to pay their husbands’ debts. Frances Gage included discussions of property rights in the conventions she organized and led in the early 1850s, and she testified before the Ohio Senate Committee on Woman’s Rights with Mrs. Hannah Cutler and Mrs. J. Elizabeth Jones (from Salem, Ohio) in 1861. Jones’ electrifying speech, in which she “asked the legislators to imagine themselves with the legal rights of a woman” and begged them to protect women from being impoverished, met with enthusiastic support in the public hearing. Legislators passed a law that gave wives limited rights to contract and profit from property as well as control over her wages.
Continued petitions kept pressure on legislators until all legal limits on women’s control of property were removed in 1887. That women had to fight for decades just to be able to control what they earned and owned made it clear to suffragists just how much women were at the mercy of male politicians. Their fight for suffrage was driven by this sense of vulnerability, and while they fought for women’s rights in many fronts, leaders like Gage and Frances Casement believed that suffrage could gain the political voice they needed.