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Many sources indicate that there is a law on the books in Michigan requiring a married woman to get her husband's permission before cutting her own hair.

According to the Huffington Post article The Craziest Laws That Still Exist In The United States, citing "The good folks over at Olivet Nazarene University":

Michigan: It is illegal for women to cut their own hair without their husband's permission.

The article above uses a page at Olivet Nazarene University as a source, but that page simply states the same assertion. It provides a generic list of sources (including several generic "crazy law" pages), but doesn't indicate which source, if any, applies to the hair cut law.

Rob Sparks at radio station Mix 95.7 WLHT-FM, Grand Rapids, MI, claims:

Apparently, ladies can’t cut their hair unless they have their husband’s permission to do so.

Likewise, Vera Hogan, in her article "The ‘dumbest’ laws in Michigan" from the Tri-County Times of Fenton, MI claims,

A woman isn’t allowed to cut her own hair without her husband’s permission.

Is it actually illegal for a married woman to cut her own hair in Michigan without her husband's permission?

If this is an actual law, where is it codified and what is the penalty?

  • Is unauthorized self-haircutting by a wife a misdemeanor?
  • Is it a felony?
  • Is this actually a professional regulatory law against anyone other than licensed beauticians giving themselves a haircut (unauthorized practice of cosmetology) and whether the offender is a woman or married is an irrelevant detail?
  • Is it not a criminal offense, but a civil cause for a fault divorce by her husband? ("Your honor, I request a divorce and full custody of our children on the basis that Mrs. Dumbface trimmed some of her split ends while I was drunk at the bar and incapable of consenting to her haircut. I also want 90% of her father's inheritance as a punishment for her bad behavior kthxbai.")
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    I looked into other claims from the Olivet Nazarene University and there are other unsupported ones. Some are not that "crazy" when you think about it. For example, in Massachussetts, "It is illegal to own an explosive golf ball." Strictly speaking, that's not true. "Whoever manufactures or sells or knowingly uses, or has in possession for the purpose of sale, any golf ball containing any acid, fluid, gas or other substance tending to cause the ball to explode and to inflict bodily injury... " MA law – Barry Harrison May 2 at 2:01
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    Many of those "laws" are not "laws"; instead, there has been one specific case where a court's decision became case law. The "there is a law that says X" claims omit the specific facts and should rather be worded "There has been a case where X, in combination with Y and Z, and absence of A, B, and C, led to the decision that ...:". – Guntram Blohm May 2 at 11:09
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    @GuntramBlohm also, some originate in horribly mangled statutes taken out of context, such as a real law requiring public school lunch programs to purchase milk from local farmers turns into a claimed total ban on children drinking imported milk under penalty of catapult. – Robert Columbia May 2 at 11:22
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    I wouldn't count on it. Michigan law is not some patchwork quilt of random laws that haven't changed in 150 years. It's organized in chapters, and the legislature has periodically done a total review and rewrite of each chapter, modernizing, purging, folding in case law, etc. – Harper - Reinstate Monica May 2 at 21:50
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    @Harper-ReinstateMonica: I dunno; mlive.com/lansing-news/2015/12/… definitely leaves me with the sense that there may yet be weird old Michigan laws out there waiting to be repealed . . . – ruakh May 3 at 6:44
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The claim is false. For at least 171 years (93%) of Michigan's 184 year existence, married women in Michigan have NOT needed their husband's permission to do anything to their hair. Since 1850, the Michigan constitution has stated a woman's property, whether acquired before or after marriage, remains her property. (Michigan became a state in 1837.) While it's debatable whether hair is personal property, the 1850 constitution and subsequent statutes "disavow a legal worldview in which one could imagine that a woman would require a man's permission to cut her hair."


There are variants of this claim that state "A woman’s hair is her husband’s legal property in Michigan." or "A state law stipulates that a woman's hair legally belongs to her husband." Another website went further to put both variants of this claim together:

  • A Michigan law states that a wife's hair legally belongs to her husband.
  • A woman isn't allowed to cut her own hair without her husband's permission.

My guess is the first statement, which most likely was never even true, led to the second statement.

A 1981 Michigan law strongly implies a wife's hair does not legally belong to her husband: A woman's "real or personal property" acquired before or after marriage "is and shall remain the property of the woman and be a part of the woman's estate." It would make sense, then, that a woman can cut her own hair without her husband's permission.

In 1981, the same Michigan law repealed a statute from 1855 titled "Rights of Married Women." @Quuxplusone very nicely found the 1855 law here as "An Act relative to the rights of married women" (thanks!). The first 2 sections are substantially the same and, again, a woman's property "shall be and remain the estate and property" of the woman. This 1855 law became effective immediately and doesn't reference an even earlier law. Michigan became a state in 1837, so it's possible this is the first Michigan law that references women's rights and a woman's property.

Even earlier, Michigan had adopted an 1850 Constitution that gave women the same rights to their property:

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.

Michigan's earliest 1835 Constitution does not mention property, except that if it's taken from someone for public use, they must be justly compensated. (Fun fact: Michigan created a permanent State Supreme Court in 1857, 7 years after women's properties were explicitly protected in the 1850 Constitution.)

I asked about hair as personal property on Law.SE. @ohwilleke answered that "Hair is not personally property until it is removed from your body." However, the statutes "essentially put married women on equal footing with single adult women in terms of property ownership and legal status" and "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 [the claim] 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."

For at least 171 years of Michigan's 184-year-long existence (~93%), Michigan laws has recognized the equal footing of married women, suggesting there was never a law that married women need their husband's permission to get a haircut. I haven't found anything that suggests a woman's property ever becomes her husband's.


There are many other websites citing attorneys practicing in Michigan who say such a law doesn't exist.

Justia:

While laws like this may have existed in the past, I did a brief search of Michigan statutes currently in effect and it doesn't appear as if this conduct is currently prohibited in Michigan.

― Attorney Nick Leydorf

A Michigan Fox station:

I think that is a myth regarding the cutting of the hair, we actually looked that one up, it's one people commonly say, I don't think we were able to find that one.

― Attorney Daniel Mead


The question also asked "Is this actually a professional regulatory law against anyone other than licensed beauticians giving themselves a haircut (unauthorized practice of cosmetology) and whether the offender is a woman or married is an irrelevant detail?"

There is a Michigan law that states:

... an individual shall not perform any form of cosmetology services, with or without compensation, on any individual other than a member of his or her immediate family without a license under this article.

So individuals who aren't licensed and aren't an immediate family member cannot give another person a haircut, whether the other person is a woman or is married.


Trying to track down the source of the claim, it seems it first originated from joke books/humor collections. I don't know/want to just assume what that says about the credibility of the claim.

The absolute earliest I've confirmed the claim is on February 9, 1999. Here, the claim is attributed as "from the book "Loony Laws" by Robert Pelton." The url ends with "lighter/silly.htm," which may or may not indicate the seriousness of the claim.

This led me to search for any connection between Robert Pelton and this claim. The earliest I've found the claim directly associated with him in a publication is on March 2000 in an issue of Boys' Life (now Scout Life):

In Michigan, a woman isn't allowed to cut her own hair without her husband's permission.

This article includes quotes from Robert Pelton, though it does not directly attribute the law to him. (I cannot read or search his book directly.)

Later, by October 2020, there was an easily searchable version of the law online in a self-described "humor collection" with exactly the same wording:

In Michigan, a woman isn't allowed to cut her own hair without her husband's permission.

The contributions are attributed to "VEKARIA S (S.Vekaria@CITY.AC.UK)." If the website is to be trusted, the last update was on March 4, 2000, so the claim was added by March 2000.

Finally, this old-fashioned looking website has several supposed US laws, including the claim, in another humor collection.

It's only later that the claim began to appear in more mainstream sites. This April 7, 2004 article is the earliest news article I've found with the claim.

I have already emailed some people in an attempt to track the claim's origin, which is a still ongoing search. I will update if I find something.

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    I expect that the 1855 law is here — "An Act relative to the rights of married women," approved 1855-02-13, published in Public and Local Acts of the Legislature of the State of Michigan (1872), Volume II, Title XXVIII. It doesn't say anything about hair. In fact, even if hair somehow counted as property, it seems mostly concerned with making sure the husband can't unilaterally take the wife's personal property (nor be forced to assume her personal debts). – Quuxplusone May 2 at 5:49
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    @Barry Harrison: This answer should be modified in light of Quuxplusone's discovery to be a more emphatic "No evidence supports this claim". None of the mentioned sources are reliable, several efforts to locate or identify the relevant law have come up empty. – sondra.kinsey May 2 at 13:50
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    The 1855 law partly repealed common law's coverture (the pooling of a married woman's possessions under her husband's rule) for the woman's separate estate and granted her contractual powers (only) "as relate to her own property" (West vs. Laraway, 28 Mich. 464, 465 (1880)). That may be the actual source of this myth: Unless she had her own money she could not legally enter a contract. While the law probably targeted real estate and other forms of capital it may have generally regulated business dealings of married women -- including haircuts. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 3 at 10:35
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    So it's pretty well debunked that such a law ever existed in Michigan - is there any chance it existed somewhere else and just became wrongly associated with Michigan for some reason? – Darrel Hoffman May 3 at 14:23
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    @ikegami I think that's a red herring. My guess is it's the common money. If I understand coverture correctlly, a wife could buy nothing without her husband's (implicit) approval, except with her own money, including services like a haircut. Relying solely on the husband's income was probably more common. – Peter - Reinstate Monica May 3 at 19:17
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There is a video of a Michigan attorney debunking that claim. While he points out correctly that it is comparatively hard to prove a negative, he has tried to do just that. See the first of the points he raises, below.

In decreasing order of importance:

  • He has personally used the searchable database of Michigan law to get a list of all laws containing the word "hair" — of which there aren't so many. This law is not among them. (Using https://www.legislature.mi.gov/mileg.aspx?page=MCLBasicSearch, a search for "hair" yields 23 entries.)
  • He has read many of such claims and found that none of them cites the specific law, which would be customary and easy to do if it existed. Instead, if any source at all is given it is just another one without reference to an actual law.
  • The law would discriminate by gender. (He doesn't say that, but I suppose it would be unconstitutional for that reason.)
  • Such a law would raise a number of questions in fringe cases (husband missing but not yet declared dead, separated but not divorced etc.) which make it impractical.
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    While it's true that it's hard to prove a negative, you don't really have to do that in most common law systems. There's a concept called Desuetude which means that an unenforced law becomes unenforceable after a long time of unenforcement. In the US, that's not true with federal or state constitutions so the burden of proof is that it's not in the Michigan constitution and that no cases have been have been decided recently on the matter. – MiniRagnarok May 3 at 14:43
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    @MiniRagnarok But you have to prove a negative when someone claims "there is a law about X". It's outside the legal system. You're debating a random internet guy who read a tweet, not a judge. – pipe May 3 at 15:31
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    Such a law would raise a number of questions in fringe cases That's fantastic - please, please tell me that was deliberate. Oh - hang on, does "fringe" not also mean "the front part of a person's hair, cut so as to hang over the forehead" in American English? – Spratty May 4 at 9:32
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    @Spratty No, that's "bangs" in American English. Bad luck. – Kevin Arlin 2 days ago
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    Just searching for the word hair in all the various laws doesn't prove that the law doesn't exist. When the law was written different terms could have been used that might not have used the word hair but still impacted cutting of hair. – Joe W 2 days ago
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This claim has changed over time. It may have originated as a Wisconsin story.

I found some key details in the March 29, 1954 edition of the The Holland Evening Sentinel:

There is a famous case of a husband who sued a barber for cutting his wife's hair . . . and collected.

I further traced this back to June 7, 1946 edition of Asbury Park Press:

Women Not Yet Free, Speaker Tells Club

"You do not have freedom for women today," Mrs. J. Bertram Hervey told members of the Ocean Grove Woman's Club ... As an example, Mrs. Hervey cited the case of a Wisconsin woman who decided to get her hair cut short. Her husband was displeased, sued the barber and won the case because there was an old law still in existence saying a wife was owned by her husband, hair included.

According to the Michigan Law Library, another women's rights activist named Emma Guffey Miller also spread this claim.

I cannot find the original legal case, so we shall have to dig into the archives of Aleene L. Hervey or Emma Guffey Miller.

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