Female Litigants before the Civil Courts of Nova Scotia, 1749-1801


  • Julian Gwyn


Women’s experiences in the civil courts of eighteenth-century Nova Scotia suggest that gender was a significant variable in civil litigation in this early period of the province’s history. Women faced great difficulties in the courts, both from their relative poverty and from the fact that the entire legal system was dominated by men. Many of the women, brought into historical light through indebtedness, were widows and by definition poor, a result of the peculiar working of the common law as it related to married women. A study of civil actions involving women, either as plaintiffs or as defendants, in Nova Scotia during the last half of the eighteenth century provides evidence regarding women’s occupations and their level of literacy, and illustrates the extent to which women were involved in the economy. While women resorted to the courts far less readily than did men, women defended their interests vigorously, despite their social and legal disabilities. Indeed, the courts proved of great importance to some women in certain phases of their lives.