Marriage Contract

Robert Dale Owen



Rosamond Dale Owens, “Robert Dale Owen and Mary Robinson,” in History of Woman Suffrage, In Two Volumes, Volume 1, 1848-1861, ed. Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Matilda Joslyn Gage (New York: Fowler & Wells, Publishers, 1881), pp. 294–295.


Rosamond Dale Owen

On the 12th day of April, 1832, Robert Dale Owen and Mary Robinson were joined in those sacred bonds, which, in every true marriage, can be broken only by the shadow hand of Death.  The ceremony was simple and unique; it consisted in signing a document written by the bridegroom himself, with a Justice of the Peace and the immediate family as witnesses.  The following extracts will show the character of the compact.

The Marriage Contract of Robert Dale Owen and Mary Jane Robinson

Robert Dale Owen

NEW YORK, Tuesday, April 12, 1832.

This afternoon I enter into a matrimonial engagement with Mary Jane Robinson, a young person whose opinions are all important subjects, whose mode of thinking and feeling, coincide more intimately with my own than do those of any other individual with whom I am acquainted.  …  We have selected the simplest ceremony which the laws of this State recognize.  …  This ceremony involves not the necessity of making promises regarding that over which we have no control, the state of human affections in the distant future, nor of repeating forms which we deem offensive, inasmuch as they outrage the principles of human liberty and equality, by conferring rights and imposing duties unequally on the sexes.  The ceremony consists of a simply written contract in which we agree to take each other as husband and wife according to the laws of the State of New York, our signatures being attested by those friends who are present.

Of the unjust rights which in virtue of this ceremony an iniquitous law tacitly gives me over the person and property of another, I can not legally, but I can morally divest myself.  And I hereby distinctly and emphatically declare that I consider myself, and earnestly desire to be considered by others, as utterly divested, now and during the rest of my life, of any such rights, the barbarous relics of a feudal, despotic system, soon destined, in the onward course of improvement, to be wholly swept away; and the existence of which is a tacit insult to the good sense and good feeling of this comparatively civilized age.


I concur in this sentiment,



Alexander S. Peak

Written in 1832, at a time when marriage conferred to husbands a near absolute dominion over their wives, this simple yet bold marriage contract, authored by the Locofoco Democrat Robert Dale Owen, stands as a progressive testament against patriarchal legal systems.  In marrying his wife, Mary Jane Robinson, Owen wished to forego the inequality perpetuated by marriage law.

In light of this, it seems a bit unfortunate that in his contract, Owen opts to describe the powers received by the husband as “rights.”  Libertarian thought has advanced much since the early nineteenth century; today, we would refer to those powers conferred to the husband as “statist privilege,” not rights, as we would reserve the good and noble term right for only those powers that are justly and innately held.  As such, rights can neither be created, granted, nor alienated by the state.

Indeed, in observing the matter of inequality between the sexes, we must find ourselves concluding that each sex, naturally, possesses the same, equal rights and duties.  Wherefore these rights are infringed upon by the state or any other aggressor, inequality is unnaturally created.

With this as our basis of understanding, we can thus see with clarity the magnificent importance of Owen’s and Robinson’s marriage contract:  Owen does not merely disclaim his statist privilege as if on a whim, he does so with full understanding of the repugnant lack of ethics any person must hold to even want the sort of dominion over another person that the state so heinously granted during Owen’s time to the male sex.  This is, in other words, a radical ethical stand against the tyranny of the age, and must, thus, be appreciated as such.

— Alexander S. Peak, 2009