Do you agree with the view that the Married Women's Property Acts were key milestones in women's emancipation?

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3 Source Essay: MWPAThe changing personal status of women by 19005/10/13

Essay q.: Do you agree with the view that the Married Women’s Property Acts were key milestones in women’s emancipation

The Married Women’s Property Acts (MWPAs) of 1870 and 1882 were small but significant key milestones in women’s emancipation.  Source 13 and 14 to an extent support this claim.  Source 13, an extract from Paula Bartley’s ‘The Changing Role of Women’ highlights the benefits of the MWPAs and how they were the beginning of female independence from their husbands.  “..allowed women to spend their own money...encouraged them to develop their own interests”, Women in 1882 were given full rights to their property and belongings earned via inheritance or by their own work.   This in itself was significant in that it showed women were recognised in the law as individuals, separate legal beings, not just the property of their husbands.  Although the MWPAs were seen by many as small, this first minor success gave 19th century women confidence and hope to continue their campaign.  This determination and hope eventually led to the passing of the vote, so in this perspective, the MWPAs were significant.  Bartley’s extract, written in 1815-1914 from the position of a woman, encourages the idea that the concept of marriage changed after the 1882 act was passed.  The whole ‘Angel in the house’ and separate spheres concepts were challenged as women began to be recognised in society as individuals with rights.  After the passing of the 1882 act, women were allowed to keep all their earning without a £200 limit. This meant that marriage was not as necessary as before, and the angel in the house ideal was left somewhat abandoned.  The Act was a step forwards for the gaining of the vote for women as the law began to see women as autonomous persons.  The fact that the MWPA was passed meant that Women had rights separate from their husbands, it was questioned after, why should the husband vote for an individual in the eyes of the law? This milestone boosted women’s confidence and had a deep psychological impact, given their sense of independence and achievement. An example of this is Caroline Norton, who protested for the act as the first woman who wanted a divorce.  Her eventual success in gaining the Matrimonial Causes Act and Custody of Infants act was a controversial inspiration for women at the time.  Eventually this beginning and a whole road of campaigns led to the enabling of the vote for women.  However, there were also aspects to the MWPAs that would suggest that the act was not key to women’s emancipation.

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Source 14, an extract from Joan Perkin’s 1993 ‘Victorian Women’ agrees with source 13 in that it the MWPAs benefited women to a degree, however presents a slightly more cynical perspective.  “...a half-hearted measure which gave women the right to their own earning...however gave rights in other property to their husbands”.  With the advantage of contextual hindsight, source 14 comments on the limited outcome for women in the 1870 act.  Any property owned by a woman before marriage would automatically become her husband’s property after marriage.  Marriage for a woman in the 19th century signified the loss of her legal ownership ...

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