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Significants of the Married Woman s Property Act

By bethanpye Oct 25, 2014 963 Words
What in your view was the short term significance of the Married Women's Property Acts in bringing about change in the domestic role of women?

The Married Women's Property acts had many short term effects that changed characteristics of the domestic role of women. Previous to the first act in 1870, women had no legal identity separate from their husband. A woman's role was seen as being in the home as the “angel of the house”, with middle class women having an almost ornamental role with little to no independence or control over their own finances. Women were seen as property and had no presence outside of their domestic sphere. In the short term, the MWPA made marriages more companionable, and although this did not equate to equal division of domestic labour, it was a further move away from the “angel in the house” role where wives were seen to be sweet, selfless creatures that lived purely to serve their husbands. The win also provided a profound psychological effect on women, leading them to believe that they were more than this traditional, domesticated stereotype. This confidence lead to the demand for even more reforms and equality. One significant impact in changing the domestic role of women was their ability after the act to have control over their own finances. The 1870 MWPA allowed women to possession of their property and inheritance to the sum of £200, as opposed to it going straight to their husband. This control gave women the option of taking up hobbies which in turn introduced a more social aspect into the woman's role outside of the home and domestic chores. An example includes cricket, which became a popular women's sport between 1880-90, especially in the middle classes where women would have needed to buy appropriate dress and equipment. Furthering this, it also allowed women to be able to shop by their own accord. This, in the most practical sense, meant that women were out of the house more and not focusing solely on household duties. The passing of the act showed female rights movements that it was possible to have their opinion heard in parliament and further showed the support within society for more equal treatment. This success moved women into more male dominated areas of the public sphere where previously they would have had no representation, even if it was still limited. The first MWPA had little impact on liberating the lower class as being given property and inheritance of worth was a luxury. Furthermore the working classes were not seen as educated and there would have been no representative in parliament making sure the 1870’s MWPA was effecting their situation. A working class woman would still have been expected to perform all domestic duties plus working therefore it would not have greatly impacted the domestic role. The reform of the MWPA in 1882 had a larger significance as it named women the sole owner of all their property and money. This meant any business or trade that a woman did before marriage could be continued with and all profits would remain with her. As the 1882 legislation detailed, “So as to authorise and empower her to receive or transfer the same, and to receive the dividends, interest, and profits thereof, without the concurrence of her husband.” Although upper class women very rarely worked, this was an incentive for middle class women to work, and was a great benefit for the lower class who often had their own businesses and trades, for example brewing beer and dressmaking. This continuation of work after marriage had an effect on the domestic role of women as it became more attractive and advantageous to have an occupation as well as being a housewife. Despite some changes, the short term domestic role of women was still intact in the sense that the home and children were still fully expected to be looked after or overseen by the woman of the house. Furthermore, the domestic role of women remained prevalent, despite it being mainly women's rights groups pushing for the act. The fact that the decision to pass the act was made by the all male parliament and voters proved that the idea still remained that domestic woman belonged in the home and the decision making was left to men. However this did somewhat mark a change in attitude towards women's roles as the cause had many influential male supporters such as John Stuart Mill, who believed the previous legalities were unfair. This, however, was undercut by the ulterior motives of many of the politicians, who didn't believe in the changing roles and just wanted to compromise with women wanting the vote. This punch cartoon of John Stuart Mill pushing some men aside attempting to “franchise” votes for women shows many men thought was wrong (appendix 1). Alternatively, another reason for the opposition to Mills was so that men could protect their wealth from the men their daughters married, by ensuring it was still legally theirs and therefore kept in the family. In conclusion the Married Women's Property acts provided many positive short term effects integrating middle and upper class women into male dominated society and providing the means for the growth of interests and hobbies outside of the home. Although the first act did not have a large impact on lower class women the, 1882 amendment allowed for working women to be able to keep their wages if they married. These factors only gave a limited change in the domestic role of women, however as it was still a male dominated decision to pass the act and it did not diminish any of the previous duties.

Sources/ Bibliography
http://www.victorianweb.org/art/costume/nunn2.html
http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/Vict/45-46/75

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