In the 1800s, the legal status of women in America was defined primarily by state law and thus varied from area to area. In general, however, a woman's legal status depended on whether or not she was married. Single women, for example, had many rights, from signing contracts and buying real estate to writing a will and acting as an executor. When a woman married, however, she became almost totally dependent on her husband. She still had some legal rights but lacked much personal autonomy.
In terms of work and the economy, the 1800s saw great changes in the types of work available to women. In 1850, for example, the first medical college for women was opened in Pennsylvania and women constituted about 5 percent of doctors by 1890. Industrialisation also brought more women into the economy, though many of the jobs available were unskilled and badly paid. It was not until the 20th century that legislation was enacted to improve the legal and economic status of American women.