dowry (douˈrē) [key], the property that a woman brings to her husband at the time of the marriage. The dowry apparently originated in the giving of a marriage gift by the family of the bridegroom to the bride and the bestowal of money upon the bride by her parents. It has been a well-established institution among the propertied classes of various lands and times, e.g., in ancient Greece and Rome, India, medieval Europe, and modern continental countries. Generally the husband has been compelled to return the dowry in case of divorce or the death of the wife when still childless. One purpose of the dowry was to provide support for the wife on the husband's death, and thus it was related remotely to the rights of dower. In civil-law countries the dowry is an important form of property. In England and the United States (except for Louisiana), the dowry system is not recognized as law.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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