Married Womens Property Act of 1870

Part of Group:

The Married Women's Property Act of 1870 introduced great changes in the law of England. What this did was allow married women to hold property and liabilities independently without their husbands. It is important to note that this was only relevant to women married after 1870. The existence of a woman was essentially suspended when not with a man. This act made it possible for a woman to exist and have more power over herself. Among some scholars, there are conflicting opinions as to whether this act benefitted women, or left them exactly where they were before. This event occurred after the Matrimonial Causes Act, when citizens became able to divorce, although men only had to prove adultery, and women had to prove adultery, violence, and a lot of other factors to be granted the divorce. 

Current Views: Married Women's Property Act of 1870 

Some of the most current views on this act are conflicting yet interesting to readers. Susan Moller Okin, an 18th-century studies scholar, argued that the family type in the earlier 18th century was founded entirely on economic considerations. It was said that these relationships were not formed out of love, commitment, intimacy, etc. It is argued that when women became more independent with their money it was a step toward equality which increased the prevalence of a nuclear family. Where husband and wife were more in love rather than there for economic gain (Okin 121). A conflicting view on this issue was raised by Lawrence Stone. Stone argued that these changes weakened the husband's patriarchal powers within the family. He also argued that after the married women property act, there was growing egalitarianism within the marriages of these people. Okin argues in many ways how that could not be true. Okin disagrees with these findings first because of the timing. Stone had mentioned the "wife's separate estate" equity law and attempted to argue that, that was the first step to an egalitarian marriage, so it would be safe to argue that the married women's property act was not a result of this and was put into place because of the way that women were not allowed to control their wealth and property.

Economic Impact of the Married Women's Property Act

In a journal article called, "A Measure of Legal Independence": The 1870 Married Women's Property Act and the Portfolio Allocations of British Wives" by Mary Beth Combs, we are shown the economic impacts of the women's property act in England. Combs posits, "They find that whereas married women increased their property holdings after the law was passed, single and widowed women benefitted most from the legislative change" (1030). It was also found that more change in the wealth of a female occurred as a result of the legislation (Combs 1030). Saying this, it is noteworthy that this law produced a suboptimal outcome because it constrained different forms in which women could own and control their own wealth. In other words, was it really a step in the right direction if there are limitations on how a woman controls her wealth? 

Course Themes and Women's Property Act 

In this course so far we have read Jane Eyre and we are reading The Woman in White. Jane Eyre was such an influential book in this time because it took place in the 19th century when women began to take a more dominant role within literature. Jane was a very powerful and dominant figure who spoke against people and stood for the truth which was very influential at this time in the 19th century because women had not been able to do that. Jane is constantly restricting herself, but it is in those moments that she shows the most passion. Jane Eyre was first published in 1847, so we know that the women's property act has not been placed yet. Which can lead us to draw an even stronger conclusion about the power of Jane and her ability to be her own woman, even when the odds are highly stacked against women in this period of time. I think that it is important to remember Jane Eyre, and how she refuses to marry St. John. She even says in the novel that he is killing her. In this time period. Marrying a man was just as if you were dying. Giving up your life, and personal liabilities to them leaves you with nothing. Which is as good as being dead. I believe that Charolette Bronte was making a point that if Jane married St. John, her life would essentially be over. 


Combs, Mary Beth. “‘A Measure of Legal Independence’: The 1870 Married Women’s Property Act and the Portfolio Allocations of British Wives.” The Journal of Economic History, vol. 65, no. 4, 2005, pp. 1028–57. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/3874913. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.

Okin, Susan Moller. “Patriarchy and Married Women’s Property in England: Questions on Some Current Views.” Eighteenth-Century Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, 1983, pp. 121–38. JSTOR, https://doi.org/10.2307/2738280. Accessed 6 Oct. 2022.