Several years ago, the Honorable Joyce Bihary, a bankruptcy judge in Atlanta, Georgia, asked me3 why our country's first bankruptcy law specifically referred to debtors using “he” or “she” rather than a gender-neutral noun (such as “bankrupts”) or the male possessive pronoun “he.” Implicitly, she was also asking whether there were any women debtors under our early bankruptcy laws. Although I had read the Bankruptcy Act of 1800 more than once, I did not recollect its use of these gender-inclusive pronouns. Nor did I know why the Act employed them. Despite having given considerable thought to contemporary women in debt, I too had no inkling as to whether there were women debtors under the Bankruptcy Act of 1800. And so I set out, with the help of my co-authors, to find the answers to Judge Bihary's two questions. Those answers led us to new questions and concerns, most particularly questions about how bankruptcy history has been told to date.
Karen Gross, Marie Stefanini Newman & Denise Campbell, Ladies in Red: Learning from America's First Female Bankrupts, 40 Am. J. Legal Hist. 1 (1996), http://digitalcommons.pace.edu/lawfaculty/63/.