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Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Interview with a Lawyer 

In the spirit of reciprocation to Cate Simon, I've asked her character, 19th century lawyer Anna Harrison Brown, to interview one of mine as it really casts a spotlight on how things were for women at that time. 

I thought one of my characters would be in particular need of advice from a lawyer, and that a female lawyer might be the one to make the spiky and defensive Jessica Neuman open up. After all, she is the unmarried mother of an outlaw's two children, and who then married another man for security. That marriage is deeply unhappy with simmering undertones of disrespect and abuse. Jessica is desperate to avoid becoming pregnant by her new husband as she knows he'd never allow her to leave with his child, and doesn't want to be trapped. Just what were her options back in the late 19th century?  

Thanks to Cate for playing along -- Anna's responses are hers.  

Manuscript found in a file of old documents pertaining to Anna Harrison Brown, in a loft which was being cleared out.

Thank you for seeing me. I feel comfortable talking to a woman lawyer. Men are too judgemental, and don’t expect us to have the same passions as they do.  My name is Jessica and I have a husband and two children. The problem is that my husband isn’t the father of my children. He thinks I’m a widow, and has accepted my family. I wouldn’t have married a man who didn’t.
My problem is that the real father and I never married, and he loves his son and daughter. He visits about twice a year and pretends to be the children’s uncle. The kids dote on him, and don’t really know who he is, but he wants to tell them when they’re grown up. I realize that you are in a different state, but I wanted to ask you a few questions about my rights in Kansas in the 1800s (date hard to read as faded) . An extra complication is that my ex-lover is a wanted outlaw. The reason I didn’t take up with him was to protect my children from any danger. People have been injured when they tried to bring in criminals. They don’t care who they shoot.

1. My first question is, who has the right to my children? Me, my husband, or my outlaw lover?

Did you and the children’s father live together as man and wife, even if you never legally married?  Because Kansas recognizes common law marriage, which means that some of the legal rights of a, if you’ll pardon me, properly married couple will still apply.  The fact that you had two children within the bounds of this relationship – and you say that you lived in a house he paid for, until the time of your marriage to your current husband?  It sounds as though there are grounds to constitute a common law marriage, which means the children’s father would potentially have rights.

2. If both men claimed my children, who would win?

Out of the three of you, it’s actually you are mostly likely to have rights.  That is not the case in most jurisdictions, where the father’s rights outweigh those of the mother.  But you’re fortunate to be from Kansas.  Under the state Constitution, which was enacted in 1861, your rights to the custody of your children – and also to property, by the way – is protected.  That’s not the case elsewhere.
If your husband hasn’t adopted your children, legally, then they’re yours.  As for the children’s father, if he’s an outlaw, it’s unlikely the courts would consider his rights to supercede yours.  Between the two men, that’s trickier – there’s an argument to be made for their real father, but if he’s an outlaw, appearing in court is tantamount to giving himself up – the question might be how eager the jurisdiction or jurisdictions where he’s wanted are to get him back.

3. My lover committed crimes in Wyoming and they tell me that has no statute of limitation. Can you explain what that means and if he’ll really always be a wanted man?

I’m afraid that’s the case, unless there’s some kind of pardon or amnesty.  It’s unfortunate that he chose Wyoming, as every other jurisdiction has a statute of limitations – a time after which it’s no longer possible to prosecute someone for their crimes.  In Colorado, for example, the statute runs on theft in three years.  I’m guessing, from the way you’re presenting this, that your outlaw friend did nothing worse than that.

There are solid reasons for a statute of limitations – evidence and testimony are far less likely to be reliable after a period of time.  That’s why Wyoming’s such an unusual case. 

4. Can I get a divorce and what can I keep? My lover paid for a home and for the upkeep of the children, so I brought money into my marriage.

Yes.  Again, you’re very lucky to be in Kansas – under the state constitution, women keep their own property whether they are married or not.  That’s something which is still very much in dispute elsewhere.

5. How much violence am I supposed to endure before it’s illegal?

This is one of the shames of our society.  A husband is allowed by law to “inflict moderate and reasonable corporal punishment.”  And unfortunately, unless you’re seriously injured or someone intervenes, there is not a lot that can be done.  If it became an obvious public disturbance, for example, or if your family intervened.  Are you close to your parents?  That might help.  No?  That’s unfortunate.

6. Would my husband be legally obliged to care for children who weren’t his if I died?

Only if he has adopted them.  Depending on the situation, there might also be significant social pressure on him, but no legal obligation, I’m afraid.

7. I try to stop myself becoming pregnant by my husband as I don’t want any more children. He doesn’t know. Am I allowed to do this?

If he becomes aware of it, and he disapproves, he does have the legal right to stop you, I’m afraid.  Are you certain he’s unaware, though?  Some of the methods available are, I believe, difficult to conceal – or so I’ve been told.     
19th Century Birth Control Adverts

8. Can I legally keep the children’s real father away from them?

Not if you’ve acknowledged that he’s their father.

9. If I leave my husband (it’s loveless and I hate my life), what can I expect from society and the court?

While you’re fortunate to live in Kansas, in this case, because your right to divorce is right in the state constitution, you should be aware that life will not be easy for you, as a divorced woman.  The courts are obliged to uphold the law, but individual judges may hold more conservative views.  And, of course, you’ll face social discrimination almost across the board, I’m afraid.  You’ll be judged on a regular basis – you need to think about whether that’s something you can live with.

10. Does a blood-relative count more than an outlaw, and unmarried father?

No, I’m afraid not.  A father, married or not, is as close in blood as . . . well, as you are.

11. As a female lawyer, how does your perspective differ to that of male colleagues?

I like to think I’m more attuned to issues that affect women.  Sometimes . . . sometimes clients find me, because they’re able to tell me things that they can’t face telling a man.  My father, who trained me, was an unusual man, a follower of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophies, and it never occurred to him that I shouldn’t be whatever I wanted to be.  And my partner – he was my clerk, originally, and so we’ve worked together always, from his perspective.  And my father was, and Jonathan is, very supportive of my work.  But even they, very unusual men both, always deferred to me on these issues.
I’ve been very much accepted by my community, but outsiders, whether they’re clients or whether I’m off in court somewhere outside of my little town, are usually surprised, sceptical, or simply dismissive.  Until I show them what I can do.  And if I, who’ve been so very fortunate to be able to do what I want to with my life, have to face that, I’m very well aware that other women have even worse to consider.

12. Why should women hope for more in the west than their Eastern sisters?

I’d say there are two reasons for that:  there is a shortage of women, here out West, and a shortage of people, altogether.  I doubt my law practice would get very far in a big Eastern city, for example, even in the states where women have the right to be lawyers.  But with a limited number of people available, and educated people even more so, I think people are quicker to accept women in more unusual roles.
And because more men have come West than women, states and territories have tried to attract women, by giving them rights – rights to property, rights to divorce, and so forth.  Wyoming is even considering giving women the vote; though I realize that’s not a place you’re likely to want to go anytime soon.  

13. What state would be the best place for me to move to if I divorce? Which one allows women the most rights?   

If you’re thinking about going far away, New York is actually leading the way on women’s property rights.  And it’s rumoured to be an easy place to go and reinvent yourself, if that’s what you want.   But if you’d like someplace a little more like home, you might consider moving to Texas.  They’ve a very good record on women’s property rights, even married women.  Women retain the right to enter into contracts, married or not.  And divorce is possible there, too.  And then, of course, there’s Wyoming, but you’ve got reasons to steer clear there.

Thank you for coming to see me -- I hope I’ve been able to answer some of your questions satisfactorily.  And once you know where you’re going, please let me know.  I’m part of a small nationwide group of women lawyers, and I’d be happy to help you find someone a little more local than I am.

The e-book Courting Anna is on sale from December 3-9 – only $0.99.  Read more about the adventures of a pioneering women lawyer in the American West – and the outlaw she falls in love with.

Connect with Cate:
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In All Innocence



Almost everyone woke simultaneously, jolted by the sound of the brakes grinding, and the engine puffing and huffing in protest at an unscheduled stop. Jake’s hand reached for his gun even before he was fully conscious.

“No!” The cry came from Jeffrey, the younger steward, who staggered into the aisle in shock.

Nat strode out of the curtained area, fastening his trousers. “What’s wrong?”

“Mrs. Hunter,” Jeffrey stammered. “She’s dead.”

Nat dragged the curtain aside, revealing the tiny-framed woman lying in a pool of blood. He kneeled and scrutinized her. “Bring a lamp.” He reached out and touched her face. “She’s alive. She’s warm. Fetch Philpot. He’s a doctor.”

The Englishman wandered groggily forward. “I’m not a doctor. I’m a—”

“We don’t care what you are, Philpot,” Jake growled. “You’re the nearest thing we’ve got. You’ve got medical training. Get in there.”

Mrs. Hunter’s eyes flickered weakly open. “My moonstone. Miss Davies—she took it.” She fell back into insensibility.

Jake frowned and his keen blue eyes looked up and down the railway car at the passengers crowded in the aisle in various stages of undress. “Where is Miss Davies? Have you seen her, Abi? You’re bunkin’ with her.”

“No, she isn’t here.” Abigail frowned. “I haven’t seen her for ages. She wasn’t even in her bunk when I changed Ava.”

Malachi padded briskly up to the group, pushing various butlers out of his way as they milled around. “Oh, my goodness! The poor woman.”

Jake nodded. “Yeah, Philpot’s seein’ to her. She’s still alive. Why’ve we stopped? We ain’t at a station.”

Malachi quickly fastened a stray button. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I have been informed that a rock fall has blocked the tracks. We will dig it out and be on our way as soon as possible.”

“A rock fall? So, how far to a station?” Nat asked. “We’re high in the mountains, miles from anywhere.”

There was another ominous rumble somewhere above them and the carriage shook. The roof thundered with the thumps and clattering of stones and gravel pounding the roof. Worried glances rose upward while Abigail hunched protectively over her baby. The noise gradually stopped, but for an occasional patter of settling gravel and stones shifting above them.

The head steward’s brow crinkled into a myriad of furrows. “I’d best go and check that out.”

Nat’s brows knotted into a frown. “We’re miles from anywhere? So where has Maud Davies gone?” “With the moonstone?”

Jake strode over to the door and looked out at the huge feathery flakes drifting down from the heavy skies onto an expansive mountainous vista. “There’s nowhere to go.”


  1. Nicely done. The interview was most educaitional. I feel the same way about women doctors in that time. Doris

    1. Thank you. Anna/Cate gave great answers and it's interesting that the rights differed from state to state.

  2. Thanks for inviting me -- or rather, Anna -- to play! This was a lot of fun to do!

    1. Thank you for playing! Your interview gave me the idea.

  3. There is some very interesting legal facts I knew nothing about until I read this interview. What a great blog. All the best to you, Cate. I wish you tremendous success with IN ALL INNOCENSE.

    1. Thanks, Sarah. Yes, Cate has given us a really good overview of the rights women had at the time. I#m very grateful to her for providing this interview.