The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill 1857

In 1857 the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Bill was discussed in parliament. Henry Drummond MP gave a speech castigating men for the way they treated womenthat showed his great understanding of feminist issues.

It was not carried, but it did get the issue of married women's financial disabilities discussed for the very first time in parliament and in the press, and no doubt influenced the inclusion of a clause in the Matrimonial Causes Act, 1857 that a deserted wife had the right to retain her own earnings. (Other clauses confirmed that a man might divorce his wife for adultery, but for a woman that ground was insufficient. It was natural that a man should be unfaithful, so it was no grounds for divorce. A man had to also be cruel, or desert his wife before she could divorce him.) In addition, the act of being asked for their signatures led to thousands of women and men giving consideration to the issue of women's rights for the first time.

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All pages © Helena Wojtczak 2009. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me