The Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 was a major milestone for women’s rights; it allowed married women to retain their own property after marriage. Prior to this act, married women had no legal rights to their own possessions, as their husbands upon marriage owned all property.
The Guardianship of Infants Act of 1886 gave father’s sole custody over any children born during a marriage and severely limited the rights of mothers in regards to their children. This act also stipulated that unmarried mothers could not gain custody of their children unless they proved that she could provide adequate care for them.
In 1891, the Matrimonial Causes Act effectively removed any legal rights from married women regarding divorce proceedings. This act stated that only men could file for divorce and it did not recognize any alleged wrongdoings by the husband as grounds for divorce. It also allowed husbands to sue their wives for adultery without having any repercussions themselves.
The Education Act of 1902 severely limited educational opportunities for girls; it stated that girls should only receive basic education while boys should receive more advanced education with a focus on preparing them for work or university study. Girls were also not allowed to attend public universities until 1919 when the University Women’s Suffrage Society successfully campaigned for equal access to higher education.
Women were also denied voting rights until 1918 when they were granted the right to vote in Parliamentary elections if they were over the age of thirty and owned property (it wasn’t until 1928 that all British citizens aged 21 and over were given voting rights). In addition, they weren’t allowed to serve on juries or stand as candidates in local or national elections until 1948 when the Representation of People Act was passed.
Finally, under existing law at the time, married women weren’t even allowed to open a bank account without their husbands’ permission until 1975 when the Equal Opportunities Commission successfully campaigned for marital equality legislation allowing married couples equal financial autonomy from one another regardless of gender.
These are just some examples of how significantly British law discriminated against women one hundred years ago; however, despite these restrictions, brave individuals continued fighting tirelessly for gender equality throughout this period and beyond which eventually led us into an era where women now have equal legal protections under British law with men.