“It Shouldn’t!” Exclaims One Boston Woman, Who Uses Her Husband’s Name Only When She Pleases—But Another Says There Are Good and Sufficient Reasons

“The matter is closed and will not be reopened,” officially replied the Assistant Secretary of the Interior last week when some Washington women protested to him that although they are married they want to keep their unmarried names. Officially it may be settled; women department workers may be obliged to sign their married names in order to get their pay checks; but the larger question of whether a woman should take a new name when she takes a husband will not be settled as long as the little band of Lucy Stoners keep up the agitation for married women with maiden names. They are an advance guard, as determined pioneers as the first suffrage workers.

In today’s Globe, Katharine Morey of Brookline, who is sometimes known as Mrs. Herbert Pinkham, tells why she thinks it absurd to expect a woman to give up the name she has been known by all her single life.

Katharine Morey

Katharine A. Morey

This appeared in The Boston Globe on September 21, 1924.  The portion supporting women keeping their names after marriage was written by Katherine A. Morey (also known, sometimes, at Mrs. Herbert Pinkham). 

Morey: No woman who has seriously decided to keep her own name will be more than mildly interested In the semiofficial news that married women employees of a certain Government department a t Washington must sign their “married names” to the payroll. There is no law In the land compelling a woman to take her husband’s name. and-as far as I have been able to discover there are no legal obstacle’ to retaining the so called maiden name in all circumstances.

That any department at Washington, or any number of departments, actually hoped to impede the movement toward name independence would be strange news. Such tactics would be several years behind the times. The idea is already firmly established and the practice of it is growing every day. I doubt very much if all the conservative talent in Washington could withhold the pay envelope of a woman who, accustomed to use her own name. refused to sign her husband’s name on a payroll.

Same Old Prejudice

Old-school lawyers (many such are holding Government office) wag solemn heads at any proposal for rescuing the married woman’s name from obscurity. The same heads have wagged at every advancement, great and small, among women: But though the practicing lawyer will often say, offhand, that use of the maiden name is illegal. none of them has ever. to my knowledge, produced any legal backing for his opinion. No State law, no national law, no word in the English Common law disputes a woman’s right to keep and use her name.

Most women who retain their names in marriage do so in the face of a certain public prejudice. It Is the same prejudice that fought education for women, women industry, women’s clubs, women’s ballot rights, and that made a social outcast, not so very many years ago, of the “working girl.” I think that prejudice will decline rapidly when the name question fs better understood.

It has declined somewhat in the last few years, I notice – or since the passage of the suffrage amendment which, in some degree, prepared the public mind for a little more independence among women.

I know that in certain business ventures of mine I found some opposition three or four years ago where no questions are asked today. Since my marriage. I have engaged in various activities under my own name, using it even in court as administratrix of an estate, and never have found any actual difficulty.

Man Might Use Wife’s Name

Often. certainly. it is of great advantage to a woman to take her husband’s name. Quite as often, perhaps. it might be to the man’s advantage to forget his own name and adopt his wife’s. In England there are many instances where women of nobility have not only retained their own names in marriage. but have handed those names to their husbands.

When a woman discards her own name and takes her husband’s she discards her own identity and takes his. This sometimes brings complications; the woman cannot engage in any undertaking of her own without involving her husband’s identity. This situation often arises in business and professional work, and as women grow interested in politics it will become increasingly embarrassing. In the work of the national Woman’s party at Washington during the suffrage amendment campaigns, many women who wished to take part were prevented by the handicap of their husband’s names, especially where the husbands were Government officials. The same difficulty would be found in almost any direction a woman turned, unless her husband was actually associated with her.

In the matter of commercial value there are plenty of examples of the high price set upon established names. Commercially the name of a concern is often its sole assets under the item of “good will.” Socially, the value of a name is never intentionally forgotten. as we discover in the newspapers’ persistent mention of a prominent matron’s real name, in parentheses following the name of her husband. Professionally we need only consider the significance of a thousand brilliant names in art, in literature, on the stage. Could Maude Adams be a “Mrs ?” Could Mary Pickford?

Many people firmly believe that the keeping of the real name by women is a fad, a fancy, an affectation, a very small and a very feeble riot in the general rebellion of the dependent sex. But it has a significance. It certainly tends away from the general scheme of dependence – dependence for a name, for a roof, for bread, for the little luxuries that so many women wheedle out of reluctant and independent husbands. Neither dependence for a name or dependence for a living is very stimulating to womankind, though both are probably more or less painfully necessary under present economic conditions.

No man who had lived to the age of 20 or 30 years would consider changing his name and practically starting life anew. Yet a woman may have a brilliant college career, may make a place for herself in business or in one of the professions, and then, marrying, drop out of sight completely. With the loss of her name there often comes the dwindling of ambition, it may be noticed. The deadly “settling” process of marriage, so deplored by our modern social critics, often has its beginnings in the loss of the woman’s identity—her name.

Stock Questions Answered

There are certain stock questions always asked of the married woman who has retained her own name.

One is: “If you are to be introduced as ‘Miss So-and-So,’ how is anyone to know you are married?”

It never seems to occur to them to wonder at the domestic status of a man introduced as ‘Mr So-and So.’ Of what possible concern can it be to a casual acquaintance whether or not a woman is married?

Another Infallible question is: “What does your husband think of this idea?”

My husband thinks of it what any husband would be likely to think if he bothered to think about it at all – which is to say that he approves of it heartily.

I think that the identity of names will receive more and more attention from women until it becomes so general that it receives no attention at all, sinking gently to the placid level of another national habit.

About Katharine Morey

Katharine Morey was the Massachusetts state chairman for the National Woman’s Party.  Morey was imprisoned multiple times for her work on women’s suffrage. The first, was after she, and a group of picketers were arrested at the white house. She served three days in June 1917. Once, after picketing Nov. 10, 1917 she was sentenced to 30 days at District Jail and Occoquan Workhouse. Later, In February 1919 she was again arrested, and sentenced to eight days in day at the Charles St. Jail., after protesting against President Woodrow Wilson in Boston.

There is an opposing view from that same issue of the Boston Globe available here: “Mrs” Is Title No Woman Should Hesitate to Bear—But Should Be Proud