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Ernst Goldmann on the Legal Status of Women and a Husband’s Right to Punish His Wife (1904)

As in every European nation in the nineteenth century, men dominated German society. The subordinate role of women was starkly captured in their legally sanctioned positions vis-à-vis their husbands. In marriage, men had the legal discretion to circumscribe the freedom of their wives. These rights included corporal punishment.

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I. Obstacles on the Road to a Postal Proxy (1904)

Some time ago, a wife whose husband was abroad wanted to vest me with a postal proxy.

When I submitted the same to the appropriate post office, I was told that the Senior Postal Administration was demanding that the proxy in question also be signed by the husband.

Thereupon, to ascertain the facts, I turned directly to the Imperial Senior Postal Administration for information; I pointed out that the matter was of fundamental importance and that I, as someone knowledgeable about the law [Rechtskundiger], was not aware of the regulation upon which this demand was based.

I received a response from the Imperial Senior Postal Administration, dated March 12, 1904: “The fact that post offices demand the co-signature of the husband on proxies issued by the wife is based on an official regulation that was issued by the Imperial Postal Service.” The Imperial Senior Postal Administration did not indicate any other reasons to me.

I regard this regulation as illegal, on the grounds that the Postal Service is obligated to hand over all the mail given to it under the address of the wife to the addressee without being allowed, for example, to demand the receipt from the husband – and indeed, that is exactly what the Postal Service does.

If an addressee has the right to demand that mail sent to him be handed over, he must logically also be entitled to appoint a third party who may accept this mail on his behalf.

I believe that this simple reflection already suffices by itself to make clear that the position of the Reich Postal Office is untenable.

To this we must add, however, that a wife undoubtedly has the right to grant proxies without her husband’s permission. This proxy would be insufficient for the person to whom it was given only if it involved legal matters concerning the assets the wife brought into the marriage, in other words, matters involving the husband’s right of administration and usufruct, a right that must be legally assumed to exist. The regulation from the Reich Postal Office sounds as though it dated to a time when a woman was not assumed to be a person with legal capacity, but stood under her husband’s guardianship.

Source: [Ernst Goldmann], “Zuschrift eines ‘bekannten, für die Frauensache sehr interessierten Berliner Rechtsanwalts,'“ [“Letter from a ‘Well-Known Berlin Lawyer with a Strong Interest in Women’s Matters“] in Die Frau. Monatsschrift für das gesamte Frauenleben unserer Zeit [Woman: Monthly Magazine for all Aspects of a Woman’s Life in our Times] 11 (1904), p. 500.

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