In 1854, Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon published a pamphlet, “A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women; Together with a Few Observations Thereon” ; this is an excerpt:
“A man and wife are one person in law; the wife loses all her rights as a single woman, and her existence is entirely absorbed in that of her husband. He is civilly responsibly for her acts; she lives under his protection or cover, and her condition is called coverture.
A woman’s body belongs to her husband; she is in his custody and he can enforce his right by a writ of habeas corpus.
What was her personal property before marriage, such as money, becomes absolutely her husband’s, and he may assign or dispose of them at his pleasure whether he and his wife live together or not.
A wife’s chattels real (i.e., estates) become her husband’s.
Neither the Courts of Common law nor Equity have any direct power to oblige a man to support his wife….
The legal custody of children belongs to the father. During the life-time of a sane father, the mother has no rights over her children, except a limited power over infants, and the father may take them from her and dispose of them as he thinks fit.
A married woman cannot sue or be sued for contracts—nor can she enter into a contracts except as the agent of her husband; that is to say, her word alone is not binding in law….
A wife cannot bring actions unless the husband’s name is joined.
A husband and wife cannot be found guilty of conspiracy, as that offence cannot be committed unless there are two persons.”
* In 2007, the British equal rights campaigner and feminist Lesley Abdela came across the grave of Barbara Bodichon. The grave lay in the tiny churchyard in Brightling, East Sussex, about 50 miles (80 km) from London, in a state of disrepair, its railings rusted and breaking away and the inscription on the tomb almost illegible.[ About £1,000 has since been raised to restore the site.
6 thoughts on “it may seem we’ve come a long way but you’ve got to admit, the bar was pretty low…”
I’ll say the bar was low! Thanks for this, Carin. I’d not heard of Barbara Bodichon, and I find her fascinating. She comes from an interesting family, too, according to the Wikipedia entry you linked.
I’m intrigued by her too. Imagine someone like that being unknown…
ah, I see you’ve hit your head on that low, low bar…
My head? My knee. What kind of shimmying act did women use to do?
Most amazingly is that they put up with it for so long. We owe such a debt of gratitude to the few that bravely rattled cages. And yet, we hardly know their names.