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Using Women's History Sources in the Archives at the Library of Virginia
Women appear in county and city records, including wills, deeds, order books, and marriages. While single women and widows could own property on the same terms as men, marriage brought an automatic transfer of the woman’s property rights to her husband. In 1877, an Act of the Assembly secured the real and personal property acquired by women before or after their marriage. Thereafter, a husband could not dispose of his wife’s property or use it to settle his debts; it remained “her sole and separate estate.”
Local records may also include separation agreements. An agreement struck between Elizabeth Blaetterman and her husband, George Blaetterman, in 1840 appears in Albemarle County Deed Book 38: 179–182. A professor at the University of Virginia, Blaetterman had twice assaulted his wife in the street with a cowhide whip; once they separated, he relinquished his legal rights over her and her property “as if she were unmarried.”