The Changing Role of Women: Legislation 1839-1928

Custody of Children Act (1839)

Reason for Act: Norton campaign, pamphlet writing

Key People: Caroline Norton, Thomas Talfourd

Description: Women could have custody of children under the age of 7 if the Lord Chancellor agreed they were of good character.

Benefits to Women: Gave women the rights to their young children for the first time, gave women powers in their marriage for the first time.

Benefits to Men: Still controlled by parliament and therefore by men.

Impact: Led to others Acts of Parliament (Guardianship of Infants Act 1886 etc.), started to recognise the importance of women in law, unlikely to have a widespread impact due to the prejudice of men.

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Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act (1857)

Reason for Act: Norton Campaign

Key People: Caroline Norton, with support from MPs and other women

Description: Divorces could be granted by the courts (rather than Parliament), deserted wives could keep their income, wives could inherit property and can sue in a civil court.

Benefits to Women: Gave significantly more rights to married women.

Benefits to Men:Still control the courts and only have to prove adultery to get a divorce

Impact:Campaignes led by women's work, significant in proving women's leadership and capability, marked partnership between male MPs and women's groups

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Contagious Diseases Acts (1864, 1866 & 1869)

Reason for Act: To control the unhealthy aspects of female prostitution (venereal disease), attitudes of men towards women.

Key People: Lydia Becker, Florence Nightingale and Josephine Bulter.

Description: Female prostitutes in naval ports and towns were arrested and had to submit to examinations, sometimes in public, suspected prostitutes could be detained in a 10 mile radius of a port.

Benefits to Women: None. Women were degraded, men could watch whilst they were examined, some lost their jobs or committed suicide, women were falsely accused.

Benefits to Men: Put the focus of prositution on the women not the men, allow men's immoral lifestyle to continue

Impact: The repeal of the Act by Butler and Becker showed the power of female campaigning but it was a taboo subject that was made public and campaigned on by respectable women. The campaign sparked off repeal committees  in every naval town and once it was repealed women regained their personal rights.

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Workshops' Regulation Act (1867)

Reason for Act: To regulate the use of women and children in light industry.

Key People: None.

Description: Workshops with workforces below 50 couldn't employ girl or boys under the age of 8, children aged to 13 could only work part-time, children and women restricted to a 12-hour day.

Benefits to Women: Protected women and girls from exploitation

Benefits to Men: Protected boys from exploitation

Impact: Women were included for their protection but they only served to enforce their 'seperate sphere' and the idea that women needed to be treated differently, not all women were pleased with the limit on their working hours.

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Agricultural Gangs Act (1867)

Reason for Act: To regulate the use of women and childen in agriculture.

Key People: None.

Description: Gang-masters had to be licenced by the local council and be of good character. It forbade women to be in gangs with men and, if working, they had to be in a gang with a female gang master.

Benefits to Women: Protected women and girls from exploitation

Benefits to Men: Protected men's working 'sphere'.

Impact: Women were included for their protection but they only served to enforce their 'seperate sphere' and the idea that women needed to be treated differently.

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Education Act, Forster-Elementary Schools (1870)

Reason for Act:Educate the masses to remain a strong empire, Reform Act (1867) gave vote to working-class men therefore, they need educating.

Key People:Liberal MP W. E. Forster

Description:Elementary schooling provided for all, England divided into districts, gaps in schooling would be filled by the state, schools boards set up

Benefits to Women:could stand for election on to the new school boards, this makes a diffence locallly and regionally.

Benefits to Men:none, but they did control the process and didn't feel like it infinged on their 'sphere'

Impact: Women didn't get paid for their work but could prove their skill in public life which challenged arguments against suffrage, only lasted until 1902 Education Act.

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Married Women's Property Acts (1870 & 1882)

Reason for Act: Smith campaign, Caroline Norton's experience, Liberal MPs, articles, petitions, all-women committees

Key People:Barbara Leigh Smith (Bodichon), The Law Amendment Society, Liberal MPs

Description: Women could keep up to £200 (1870), and women entering marriage kept ownership of money and businesses they had previously owned (1882)

Benefits to Women: Protects their rights as individuals, recognises their own property as seperate from husband's.

Benefits to Men:Could hide their debt in their wife's property, would appease women so they forgot about suffrage.

Impact: Greater rights for women in marriage, show success of women's campaigning in conjuction with Liberal MPs.

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Factory Acts (1874, 1896 & 1901)

Reason for Act: To regulate the use of women and childen in industry.

Key People: None.

Description: Raised minimum working age to 9, limited working day to 10 hours (1874). Banned children from working under the age of 11 and employers couldn't employ women who were 4 weeks away from giving birth (1896). Minimum working age of boys and girls raised to 12 and women could only work 55.5 hours per week (1901)

Benefits to Women: Protected women and girls from exploitation

Benefits to Men: Protected boys from exploitation

Impact: Women were included for their protection but they only served to enforce their 'seperate sphere' and the idea that women needed to be treated differently, not all women were pleased with the limit on their working hours.

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Education Act, Mundella- Attendance (1880)

Reason for Act: To educate the masses to build a strong empire, built on previous legislation, further secondary education provision, ended school boards.

Key People: Liberal MP A. J. Mundella.

Description: Elementary schooling made compulsory for children aged 5 to 10, government grants provided free places when needed, an extention of the Education Act, Forster- Elementary Schools (1870), School Attendane Committees were set up to enforce attendance.

Benefits to Women: Girls were now entitled to the same education as boys at elementary level

Benefits to Men:  All boys were now entitled to education at elementary level

Impact: Working class girls were still expected to take time off to ensure they did their domestic duties, although school attendance was compulsory this was not rigorously enforced, especially for girls

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Matrimonial Causes Act (1884)

Reason for Act: Changing attitudes to women.

Key People: Supportive MPs, women's campaigns.

Description: Made it illegal for men to lock up their wives if they refused to have sex with them.

Benefits to Women: Protected women's rights as individuals

Benefits to Men: None.

Impact: Jackson case became a 'case law' to interpret other legislation after Mr. Jackson kidnapped and locked up his wife after she refused to live with him or see him. Her friends campagined and the judges ruled that the husband has no right to keep her against her will.

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Shop Hours Regulation Act (1886 & 1906-14)

Reason for Act: To regulate the use of women and childen in shops.

Key People: None.

Description: Girls and boys could only work 74 hours per week and councils were required to inspect shops for violation (1886), hours decreased to 64 per week (1906-14).

Benefits to Women: Protected women and girls from exploitation

Benefits to Men: Protected boys from exploitation

Impact: Women were included for their protection but they only served to enforce their 'seperate sphere' and the idea that women needed to be treated differently, not all women were pleased with the limit on their working hours.

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The Local Government Act (1894)

Reason for Act: Involvement in political groups such as Primrose League and Women's Liberal Association.

Key People: Liberal MPs.

Description: Allowed married women to join single and widowed rate paying women to vote in local electiona and allowed women to stand for election as local councillors.

Benefits to Women: Women could stand in elections and vote in local elections

Benefits to Men: None, but they still controlled the process and it didn't feel like it infinged on their 'sphere'.

Impact: Women could get involved in local welfare issues, women proved they could balance 'spheres' and proved their capability.

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Education Act, Balfour- Local Authorities (1902)

Reason for Act: To educate the masses to build a strong empire, built on previous legislation, further secondary education provision, ended school boards.

Key People: Conservative MP Arthur Balfour.

Description: Abolished 2568 school boards and replaced them with county education authorities, provided more capacty to build schools, secondary education had to be paid for.

Benefits to Women: Some poorer girls were now entitled to education beyond elementary level

Benefits to Men: Some poorer boys were now entitled to education beyond elementary level, men were once again in charge of education as women couldn't be in charge at a county level

Impact: Poorer girls could gain a secondary education, Buss used this change in the law effectively, in 1930,  80% of children were attending only one school for their entire education and a majority of these were girls.

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The Representation of the People Act (1918)

Reason for Act:Universal Manhood Suffrage, women's contribution in WWI, Speaker's Conference (1916)

Key People:WSPU, NUWSS, cross-party MPs due to coalition government, Lord Curzon

Description:All men over the age of 21 could vote, all women over 30 on local government register or married to men that were could vote.

Benefits to Women:Women could vote in general elections for the first time

Benefits to Men:Universal Manhood Suffrage, didn't change the role of women too much as those who were radical still couldn't vote

Impact: Restrictions on which women could vote, younger women who worked during the war couldn't vote, women still not equal to men.

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The Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act (1919)

Reason for Act: An attempt to iron out glaringly obvious inequalities between women and men.

Key People: Government post-WWI.

Description: Gave women rigts and removed legal barriers that were stopping women entering professions and graduating at Oxford and Cambridge.

Benefits to Women: as above.

Benefits to Men: None, although this was highly controversial and in practise was still controlled by the prejudices of men.

Impact: Women legally had no barriers and this was a key milestone but in reality women were regulally blocked in the field of work by blatant discrimination and men continued to be favoured in these professions, especially civil service.

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Infanticide Act (1922)

Reason for Act: An attempt to iron out glaringly obvious inequalities between women and men.

Key People: Government post-WWI.

Description: Removed the charge of murder if a depressed mother (close to childbirth) killed her infant.

Benefits to Women: as above.

Benefits to Men: None.

Impact: This recognised the medical needs of a woman after childbirth for the first time.

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Married Women's Maintenance Act (1922)

Reason for Act: Attempt to iron out the glaringly obvious inequalities between men and women.

Key People: Government post-WWI.

Description: Allowed women 40 shillings for herself and 10 for each child

Benefits to Women: Gave women some financial freedom from men, helped women who were deserted by their husbands

Benefits to Men: none.

Impact: This helped to support women and their children who had been deserted and finished the hard work of Caroline Norton, it was improved upon by the Bastardy Act (1923).

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Matrimonial Causes Act (1923)

Reason for Act: Attempt to iron out the glaringly obvious inequalities between men and women.

Key People: Government post-WWI.

Description: Allowed Women to divorce on the same grounds as men

Benefits to Women: Equality in divorce laws.

Benefits to Men: none.

Impact: This helped to support women who were poorly treated by their husbands, finished the work of Caroline Norton, a key social milestone.

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Guardianship of Infants Act (1925)

Reason for Act: An attempt to iron out glaringly obvious inequalities between women and men.

Key People: Government post-WWI.

Description: Gave mothers the same custody rights as men.

Benefits to Women: as above.

Benefits to Men: None.

Impact: This helped to support women and finished the hard work of Caroline Norton, a key social milestone.

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Equal Franchise Act (1928)

Reason for Act: Attempt to iron out the glaringly obvious inequalities between men and women.

Key People: Government post-WWI, NUWSS, WSPU

Description: Gave women the right to vote on the same terms as men.

Benefits to Women: All women over the age of 21 could vote

Benefits to Men: none.

Impact: This concluded the suffrage campaign, women now had legal rights and would continue to fight for social recognition which would see a full implamentation of their rights.

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Missing Legislation

Municipal Franchise Act (1869):

  • allowed unmarried rate paying women to vote in local election.

Reform Act (1867):

  • attempted female suffrage.

Reform Act (1884):

  • doubled the number of men who could vote.

Concilliation Bills (1910, 1911 & 1912)

  • these were defeated

Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act (1913)

  • Known as the Cat and Mouse Act.
  • Implamented due to hunger strikes and force feeding.
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Missing Legislation

Treasury Agreement (1915):

  • Trade Unions and dilution.

Restoration of Pre-War Practises Act (1919):

  • restored peacetime work, pay and conditions for women.
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