Women and Divorce in the Victorian Era Essay

Women and Divorce in the Victorian Era Essay

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Women and Divorce in the Victorian Era

“There's a sanctity in this relation of life," said Mr. Bounderby, "and - and - it must be kept up."

--Hard Times, 73

Once married, only one in ten women divorced.

--“Life for Women”

For Victorians, divorce was not only extremely expensive, it was very hard to do. Women and men stayed in unhappy marriages for numerous reasons. Many stayed away from divorce because of the stigma attached to divorced women. It was also considered a societal taboo. “Prior to 1857 England was the only Protestant country in Europe that did not have provisions for civil divorce. Divorce could only be obtained through private Acts of Parliament” (“Divorce”). Divorces were very hard to attain because there was no civil divorce. Private Acts were inconvenient and extremely costly. The poor had no way to attempt divorce under these circumstances. Just 322 divorces were approved prior to the passing of the 1857 Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act. Subsequent to this Act passing, divorce rates rose to about 369 in 1890, and 560 in 1900. (“Divorce”).

Divorce laws highlighted the unequal status of women to men through the unequal circumstances which divorce was granted. A man could divorce a woman merely on the grounds of adultery. Yet a woman had to prove her husband guilty of adultery “…combined with cruelty, bigamy, incest, or bestiality” (“Marriage”). The unequal status of women to men was also evident through how the courts classified married and single females. When a Victorian man and woman married, the rights of the woman were legally given over to her spouse. “This suspension of the married woman’s legal personality was known as “coverture”. An unmarried woman was known in the law as a feme sole (...


... middle of paper ...


...n before and during her marriage.
* 1883: Custody Acts: allowed for women to be awarded custody of children up to the age of 16 (Moore par.4-5).


Works Cited


Dickens, Charles. Hard Times. Pearson Education. 2004.

“Divorce.” The 1890’s, An Encyclopedia of British Literature, Art, and Culture. New York. Garland Publishing, INC. 1993.

“Interesting Facts.” 5 November 2004. .

“Life for Women.” 2004. 7 November 2004. .

“Marriage and Divorce.” Victorian Britain, An Encyclopedia. New York. Garland Publishing, INC. 1988.

Moore, Melissa. “Women’s Issues Now & Then, A Feminist Overview of the Past 2 Centuries.” 2004. 6 November 2004. .

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