|Special thanks to Tammy Hepps for images.|
I love records that aren't as well known and that surprise us with the information they provide about women's lives. Such is the case with records documenting a woman's Feme Sole Trader status.
First, what does Feme (or Femme) sole trader mean?
According to the dictionary it means: a married woman who is entitled to carry on business on her own account and responsibility, independently of her husband. She could also be referred to as a Feme sole merchant.
The term Feme sole means that a woman is acting alone so that dictionary definition of a feme sole trader makes sense in context to a married woman acting independently. Now this is remarkable if we look at some of the dates these records cover, centuries when women were bound by laws that gave her husband the power over property and earnings.
|Thanks to Tammy Hepps for images.|
Judy Russell writes in the Legal Genealogist about a California case in 1850 where a woman received feme sole trader status but that it wasn't easy. She writes that the woman's intention had to be published in the newspaper repeatedly, she had to go to court, she also had to agree to support herself and her children.*
The South Carolina Encyclopedia states that femme sole trader statutes begin appearing there in the early 1700s. It notes,
"Because the activities of a feme sole trader could deprive the husband of services that marriage entitled him to, his consent was required, as was his agreement not to meddle in her business dealings. Although registration was not required, more than six hundred deeds or contracts conveying feme sole trader status were registered between 1754 and 1824. It is unknown how many other women operated taverns, inns, or boardinghouses; kept shops; ran bakeries; sold liquor, provisions, dry goods, poultry, livestock, and other farm commodities; and engaged in other suitable female employments with only the tacit consent of their husbands."
Apparently some women received feme sole trader status in cases where the couple was separated, which means you may want to look for additional records.**
If your ancestor lived in a state that granted feme sole status, this could be a great place to search for a female ancestor who ran a business or worked.
Thought Co - Feme Sole
Parramore, Mary R. "For Her Sole and Separate Use": Feme Sole Trader Status in Early South Carolina. Thesis University of South Carolina, 1991.
The Legal Genealogist - The Women of Sacramento County
* The Legal Genealogist - California's Sole Traders
**South Carolina Encyclopedia - Feme Sole Traders