The Homesteading Rights of Deserted Wives: A History
Nebraska Law Review (Forthcoming)
70 Pages Posted: 11 Sep 2020
Date Written: August 1, 2020
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the federal government of the United States distributed 270 million acres of land to homesteaders. The federal land-grant legislation allowed single women, but not married women, to partake in homesteading. Existing in a “legal netherworld” between single and married, deserted wives did not have clear rights under the federal legislation, much like deserted wives did not have clear rights in American marital law. During the homesteading period, many deserted wives litigated claims in front of the Department of the Interior, arguing they had the right to homestead. This is the first article to collect and analyze the administrative decisions regarding the homesteading rights of deserted wives, offering a unique view of American marriage. After documenting the history of homesteading rights of deserted wives, this Article explores how these unique administrative decisions adopted or rejected the prevailing marital norms in America and how understanding these administrative decisions can aid in our understanding of marriage in American history.
Keywords: property, legal history, husband and wife, homesteading, homestead act, land-grant legislation, American West, deserted wives, women's rights
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