Ladies in Red: Learning from America's First Female Bankrupts
American Journal of Legal History, Vol. 40, 1996
40 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2009
Date Written: 1996
Several years ago, the Honorable Joyce Bihary, a bankruptcy judge in Atlanta, Georgia, asked me why our country's first bankruptcy law specifically referred to debtors using "he" or "she" rather than a gender neutral noun (such as "bankrupts") or the male possessive pronoun "he." Implicitly, she was also asking whether there were any women debtors under our early bankruptcy laws. Although I had read the Bankruptcy Act of 1800 more than once, I did not recollect its use of these gender-inclusive pronouns. Nor did I know why the Act employed them. Despite having given considerable thought to contemporary women in debt, I too had no inkling as to whether there were women debtors under the Bankruptcy Act of 1800. And so I set out, with the help of my co-authors, to find the answers to Judge Bihary's two questions. Those answers led us to new questions and concerns, most particularly questions about how bankruptcy history has been told to date.
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