A Short History of Women's Rights

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excerpt from the book...WOMEN'S RIGHTS UNDER ROMAN LAW, FROM AUGUSTUS TO JUSTINIAN--27 B.C. TO527 A.D.[Sidenote: Guardianship.]The age of legal capability for the Roman woman was after the twelfthyear, at which period she was permitted to make a will.[1] However, shewas by no means allowed to do so entirely on her own account, but onlyunder supervision.[2] This superintendence was vested in the father or,if he was dead, in a guardian[3]; if the woman was married, the powerbelonged to the husband. The consent of such supervision, whether offather, husband, or guardian, was essential, as Ulpian informs us,[4]under these circumstances: if the woman entered into any legal action,obligation, or civil contract; if she wished her freedwoman to cohabitwith another's slave; if she desired to free a slave; if she sold anythings _mancipi_, that is, such as estates on Italian soil, houses,rights of road or aqueduct, slaves, and beasts of burden. Throughout herlife a woman was supposed to remain absolutely under the power[5] offather, husband, or guardian, and to do nothing without their consent.In ancient times, indeed, this authority was so great that the fatherand husband could, after calling a family council, put the woman todeath without public trial.[6] The reason that women were so subjectedto guardianship was "on account of their unsteadiness of character,"[7]"the weakness of the sex," and their "ignorance of legal matters."[8]Under certain circumstances, however, women became _sui iuris_ orentirely independent: I. By the birth of three children (a freedwoman byfour)[9]; II. By becoming a Vestal Virgin, of whom there were butsix[10]; III. By a formal emancipation, which took place rarely, andthen often only with a view of transferring the power from one guardianto another.[11] Even when _sui iuris_ a woman could not acquire powerover any one, not even over her own children[12]; for these an agnate--amale relative on the father's side--was appointed guardian, and themother was obliged to render him and her children an account of anyproperty which she had managed for them.[13] On the other hand, herchildren were bound to support her.[14]
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