Click each illustration for a larger view
Fashionable women of the 19th century wore clothes
that looked elegant, yet prevented them from working
Activism for women's suffrage was a far cry from the lives of most Texas frontier women.
Images of beautiful women adorned the currency of the Republic of Texas. Real women were somewhat less ethereal and divine.
In the days of the Texas Revolution, women worked, suffered enemy attacks, nursed the sick and wounded, provided horses, and sewed flags.
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All Men Are Created Equal
We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.
Declaration of Independence, 1776
As early Americans began to forge a new nation, based on principles of democracy that had never actually been tried, they discovered that the notion of equality was not self-evident at all. Fundamental questions remained to be answered. Who should be allowed to rule? Who should make the laws that govern others? What does it mean to be a citizen?
In the early days, most states put strict property qualifications on the right to vote, ensuring that suffrage (the right to vote) remained in the hands of wealthy white land-owners. Besides the property restriction keeping out the poor, whole classes of people were specifically excluded from the vote: African-Americans (both slave and free), Indians, foreigners, the mentally ill, convicts -- and women.
In early America, most states allowed women almost no legal rights of their own. They had to depend on a father, brother, or husband to represent them before the law. A married woman was almost the same as property. Anything that she brought to the marriage or earned afterwards became the property of her husband. A married woman could not enter into a contract independent of her husband. No woman could vote, serve on a jury, or hold public office.
In early Texas, men and women were partners in hardship and work, but not in government and politics. Texas granted women no voting rights. Yet in some ways, the rough-and-ready frontier of Texas actually allowed women more rights than the more civilized Northeast. In Texas a single woman or widow could make contracts, sue or be sued, choose her own home, own property, and retain custody of her children. A married woman was allowed to retain ownership of her own property, was entitled to share equally with her husband any wealth or property earned during the marriage, and could make her own will, leaving her separate property and her share of the community property to whomever she chose. These differences reflected the reality of life on the frontier, where a pioneer woman might well have to survive on her own. They also reflected the heritage of Spanish law, which allowed more rights for women than the English common law used in many other states.
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