"To What Extend Did Women's Position In British Society Change Between 1850 And 1929?"

2467 words - 10 pages

"To what extend did women's position in British society change between 1850 and 1929?"In society today it is generally accepted that women and men are equal in the eyes of the law and therefore in society. This is a massive change from the position of women before 1850. The movement for equal rights for women began in earnest in the last part of the 19th century and many of the most important changes had occurred by 1929. Changes occurred in the world's of marriage, education, work and, possibly most importantly, politics.In 1850 a women was viewed as the property of her husband when she married. A few women remained unmarried and were usually under the jurisdiction of their father or another male relative. These women were in the minority though as in 1850 on average 87% of each generation would marry. Once married all money belonging to the woman was her husbands. Her husband had the right to choose where she lived, what she did and he could beat her or lock her up. Divorce was almost impossible as a Private Act of parliament had to be passed and this was very an expensive thing to get and completely out of the question for most women who had no control over their finances. Between 1765 and 1857 only 276 divorces were granted and only 4 of there were to women.The first major change in this area was the Divorce Act, which was passed in 1857. This is viewed by some historians as a big step towards more freedom for women, but in reality brought little change. It merely benefited wealthy men. A man could divorce a woman on account of adultery alone, but a woman had to prove bigamy, sodomy, incest or neglect. This shows how society did not view women as equal and is evidence of the double standard with regards to sex in Victorian times. Divorce was still very rare and between 1857 and 19000 only 582 people had obtained a divorce under this new act and as before very few of these were to women. It was not until 1923 that women were granted the same rights to divorce as men. Possibly the most important development was the Married Women's Property Act, which was passed in 1857. These meant women could keep most of the money they brought into the marriage and £200 of earnings per annum after that. This was very significant psychologically for women as it meant they had financial freedom to an extent and they were not relying completely on their husbands. Women now had power over important aspects of their life even after marriage and illustrates a major change in societies perception of them.Marriage for women in 1850 meant many years of almost continual pregnancy. The average number of live births per marriage was 6.75 in 1950. Many women, particularly of the middle classes, had over 10 children. This was because middle class women did not need to work and heirs were seen as a necessity. As many children died in childhood families had many to ensure some survived to adulthood. Contraception was virtually non-existent so women had very little...

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