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Pure Patriarchy: Nineteenth-Century Canadian Marriage

50 Pages Posted: 11 May 2013  

Constance Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1986


The author provides a detailed account of nineteenth-century Canadian views of marriage and divorce. In the first part of the article, the author discusses the conceptions of, and attitudes towards, marriage and how they differed in rhetoric and reality. In the second part, the author examines the legislative and judicial responses to marital breakdown. Through extensive reference to nineteenth-century statutes and case law, the author reveals that whereas the legislatures were prepared to adopt a “companionate model” of marriage (ie: equality between the spouses), the judiciary adhered to a “patriarchal model” which vested authority in the marriage in the husband. In the result, marriage was not the uniquely moral institution claimed by nineteenth-century rhetoric; rather, it served to bolster male supremacy in Canada.

Keywords: 1800s, nineteenth, 19th, century, history, historical, marriage, divorce, Canada, Canadian, family law, marital, breakdown, companionate model, patriarchal, patriarchy, husband, wife, rhetoric, equality, spouses

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance, Pure Patriarchy: Nineteenth-Century Canadian Marriage (1986). McGill Law Journal, Vol. 31, 1986, 264-312. Available at SSRN:

Constance Backhouse (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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