“My name is the symbol of my identity”
It’s a factoid that should raise eyebrows: as recently as 1982, a married woman forfeited her right to vote unless she took her husband’s name. You may think we’ve come a long way since the Dark Ages. Think again.
In 1855 she couldn’t vote, but that year Lucy Stone became the first woman in the U.S. to keep her surname after marriage. Stone’s rationale for not taking the name of her husband, Henry Blackwell: “My name is the symbol of my identity which must not be lost.” An ardent suffragist and abolitionist, she was also the first woman in Massachusetts to obtain a college degree.
But 120 years later, many states were still wedded to the idea that women must change their names upon marriage. It wasn’t until 1982 — 1982!?! — that the Alabama Supreme Court unanimously agreed that women could retain their surnames post-wedding. No longer did women in America face a court challenge if they wanted to retain their surnames after marriage.
In 1848, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott convened the first conference on women’s rights in America at Seneca Falls, NY. The conference Declaration of Sentiments notes not only that men had denied women the right to vote, but married woman became “civilly dead” through the practices of coverture.
States began freeing women from bits and pieces of coverture in the 19th century, but it wasn’t until 1919 that U.S. women won the right to vote. (Yes, it has not yet been a century here — but it happened in 1893 in New Zealand.) And the end of the century before we could vote using our birth name, if we were married.
And then, there’s Greece (the home of the modern republic). In 1983, family law changed: it requires that all women must keep their birth surname for legal purposes. That was 30 years ago, and the sentiment is completely opposite of a 2009 U.S. survey. (Still think we’re a “liberal” society?)