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2023-24 Old Dominion Public Lecture Series – Women’s Property and the Downward Spiral into Fraud: Questioning the Persistent Narrative of Progress in Women’s Legal Status

Laura F. Edwards, History

December 6, 2023 · 4:30 pm6:00 pm · 010 East Pyne

Humanities Council

The assumption that women’s legal status has steadily improved over time is so entrenched that it is now difficult to imagine otherwise.  That narrative of progress, however, ignores dramatic legal changes in the nineteenth century that worked in the opposite direction, undermining traditional claims that women had to property and, increasingly, linking women’s control of property to fraud.  Ultimately, the specter of fraud compromised all women’s legal ability to own and manage property, with results that are still with us today.


Laura F. Edwards is the Class of 1921 Bicentennial Professor in the History of American Law and Liberty.  She focuses on the legal history of the nineteenth-century United States, with an emphasis on people’s interactions with law and the legal system. Her most recent book, “Only the Clothes on Her Back:  Clothing and the Hidden History of Power in the Nineteenth-Century United States,” received the Merle Curti award for the best book in social history from the Organization of American Historians. As an Old Dominion Research Professor, Edwards will focus on her book project, “No Account:  Credit, Property, and Women’s Lives in the United States,” which traces the material consequences of the shift from unwritten to written forms of law in the lives of women in the nineteenth century United States.

Old Dominion Research Professors contribute to the Council’s programs and events and engage the campus community in sustained discussions about their research. This cohort of senior faculty join a yearlong program designed to provide additional research time and to enhance the humanities community more broadly. They also serve as faculty fellows in the Society of Fellows in the Liberal Arts. Old Dominion Professors are full professors in the humanities and humanistic social sciences.

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