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There is a question floating around on Skeptics SE that asks if married woman in Michigan are required to have her husband's permission to cut her hair.

Here are some potentially relevant things included in an answer:

Michigan's 1850 Constitution:

The real and personal estate of every female, acquired before marriage, and all property to which she may afterwards become entitled, by gift, grant, inheritance or devise, shall be and remain the estate and property of such female, and shall not be liable for the debts, obligations or engagements of her husband, and may be devised or bequeathed by her as if she were unmarried.

1855 Michigan law titled "An Act relative to the rights of married women."

1981 Michigan law that includes something on "Rights and Liabilities of Married Women."

Do the above sources say anything about whether married woman in Michigan are required to have her husband's permission to cut her hair?

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    The title and the question are very, very different.
    – gnasher729
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 22:04
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    @gnasher729 the only better title I can think of is "what are property rights do husbands have over their wife's hair?" But I'm not sure if this is within the rules of the Law SE.
    – inund8
    Commented May 4, 2021 at 22:17
  • @gnasher729 Sorry about that. Do you have any advice on how to improve this question? Commented May 4, 2021 at 23:49
  • @MarkBiernacki I will try your suggested title, thanks! Commented May 4, 2021 at 23:53

1 Answer 1

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Hair is not personally property until it is removed from your body, it is just part of your body, just like your nose or your femur.

After it is removed from your body, it is the property of the person it used to be attached to, although it is frequently promptly abandoned to a trash bin or the floor of a hair cutter.

A married woman in Michigan is not now required to have her husband's permission to cut her hair (unless the husband has been declared her legal guardian for extraordinary cause due to something like dementia by a court with ample due process protections, in theory, anyway).

This wasn't true even in 1850 and hasn't been true at any time since then.

It may never have been true in Michigan while it was a part of the United States of America, although the state of territorial law under the Northwest Ordinance was not necessarily easy to determine with certainty. Almost certainly, there was never a statute to that effect on the books in Michigan or any preceding U.S. territory.

The 1850 Constitution recognized the right of a married woman to have separate property that was not marital property (not unlike the law of community property states and countries at the time and not unlike states like Colorado).

The 1855 statute, a 1911 statute not linked above, and the 1981 statute essentially put married women on equal footing with single adult women in terms of property ownership and legal status, with the 1981 statute basically just re-codifying the 1855 and 1911 statutes in more modern language.

These legal authorities did so in order to abolish the common law doctrine that upon marriage, a husband and wife become one legal person who acts legally though the husband, called the merger doctrine a.k.a. coverture.

Historical background for this wave of statutes can be found here. Justice Kennedy reviewed the history of this law in his 2015 opinion legalizing same sex marriage nationwide in the United States.

One U.S. state was outside the common law tradition and a laggard, but it wasn't Michigan:

In 1979, Louisiana became the last of the states of the U.S. to have its Head and Master law struck down. An appeal made it to the Supreme Court of the United States in 1980, and in the following year the high court's decision in Kirchberg v. Feenstra effectively declared the practice of male-rule in marriage unconstitutional, generally favoring instead a co-administration model.

While these statutes are not directly applicable to the question, they do, more generally, disavow a legal worldview in which one could imagine that a woman would require a man's permission to cut her hair, although this is almost surely just an urban myth. Pre-1850, the government in Michigan, which was basically on the frontier at the time, was just too weak to maintain that kind of control over people.

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  • Thanks for your answer! I was just about to edit the question to make it more consistent. Why do you say "This wasn't true even in 1850 and hasn't been true at any time since then."? Are you implying the US has a federal law against this? Commented May 4, 2021 at 23:52
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    Thanks for the edit! May I ask if you can cite the part that hair is not personal property until it is removed from the body? (maybe this is so obvious to you there's nothing to cite) May I quote part of your answer in this answer on a different SE site? Commented May 5, 2021 at 0:18
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    @BarryHarrison Feel free to quote anything you want. I am not implying that there was a federal law (there wasn't); it was a basically universal trend at the state level in U.S. legal history. No state ever moved backward after reforming these laws. i have never seen caselaw on the issue of hair attached to a person as personal property per se. But wrongful hair cutting (e.g. of school children who aren't sex conforming or are minorities) always gets litigated as a civil rights or tort issue, not a property rights issue, and organs are not property when they're in your body at least.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented May 5, 2021 at 0:52
  • Thanks for explaining this! Commented May 5, 2021 at 1:09

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