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The Tort of Seduction: Fathers and Daughters in Nineteenth-Century Canada

Dalhousie Law Journal 10 (1986) 45-80

36 Pages Posted: 25 May 2013  

Constance B. Backhouse

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section

Date Written: 1986


The tort of seduction was based in feudal notions that certain people could hold property interests in other people – namely masters with a proprietary interest in servants. In nineteenth-century Canada, the tort was so narrow that it related almost exclusively to fathers' suing men who seduced their daughters for loss of services. Though fathers' proprietary interest in their daughters' chastity and services was reenforced by the legislature, seduction actions were increasingly problematic as women became more independent and left home to work waged jobs. Courts struggled to reconcile the proprietary interest of fathers that treated women as a passive species of property, recognition of women's increasing independence, and judges' antagonism toward women who became pregnant out of wedlock. As a result, the judiciary eroded the effectiveness of the tort of seduction. Nevertheless, fathers continued to pursue and win tort actions in seduction. The lawsuits sought to assert patriarchal property interests in the face of a family unit undergoing drastic change in the face of modernization.

Keywords: tort, seduction, feminist, feminism, property, proprietary, nineteenth, century, 19th, Canada, Canadian, law, legal, father, daughter, sex, patriarchy, family, seduce, seducing, men, women, sue, suing, Backhouse, history, historical, 1800s, patriarch, pregnant, independent, service, services

Suggested Citation

Backhouse, Constance B., The Tort of Seduction: Fathers and Daughters in Nineteenth-Century Canada (1986). Dalhousie Law Journal 10 (1986) 45-80. Available at SSRN:

Constance B. Backhouse (Contact Author)

University of Ottawa - Common Law Section ( email )

57 Louis Pasteur Street
Ottawa, K1N 6N5

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