Marriage and divorce

Sources 18 completely agrees with the statement that the changes in law governing married life represented a ‘formidable record of improvement’ by 1914. This source states various acts which have been passed to enable the record of improvement formidable. This source was published in 1992, which was after 1914 suggesting that changes to the law which had been made regarding married life was a ‘formidable record of improvement’ as there were acts which had been passed in favour of the statement preventing the husband in a married relationship to do certain things with their wife. ‘The catalogue of reforms and advances for married women before 1914’ this shows that there were acts which had been introduced before 1914 which proved that the changes to law governing married life was a ‘formidable record of improvement’ due to the acts passed which were evidence of this.

From my own knowledge, Josephine Butler can be linked to this source as her husband agreed with her views. Josephine’s husband had similar views to her who had strong views about the wrongs of inequality and injustice and the need for social reform. This shows that Josephine Butler had a strong belief that there should be no inequality between men and women and that the differences which were still in place should be changed. As well as Josephine Butler, the Contagious Diseases Act was an act which tied in with this agreement of change in law as because this act was to reduce venereal disease. It was known that venereal disease was spread through contact with prostitutes infected by this disease. This meant that if a woman had refused internal examinations they would be locked up and after trial they had to prove that they were virtuous. This demonstrated that if a woman was to have venereal disease, they would have to prove themselves worthy enough to return back to their normal life hence if they were to get married, the husband would not be shocked if they were to find out that their wife had venereal disease. The Contagious Diseases Act showed that by 1914, the changes to the law governing married life did represent a ‘formidable record of improvement’ as it meant that women who were suspected to have venereal disease were examined to ensure that if they were planning to later in life get married their husband would not have to suffer due to their wife having a disease which they were unknown of before their marriage.

Similarly, source 17 has views agreeing and disagreeing with the statement as it states ‘By the eve of the First World War, women could no longer be called ‘the last legal slaves’. This shows that because the First World War had taken place in 1914, and the quote is in favour of women saying to not get married to become slaves for their husbands shows that from this time, the law for married life had been changed. It demonstrates that things began to improve from World War one as it was the beginning of change in the law governing married life. ‘Continuing change was recognised by the Royal Commission on Divorce in 1909… on an equal footing’ this quote suggests that the ‘Royal Commission on Divorce’ believes that men and women should be equal and there should be no differences between the two genders. They believe that in a married relationship, men and women should have equal rights such as equal opportunities for working outside the home and no work should be designated to a particular gender as the ‘Angel in the House’ concept believes that women have the role of staying in the home and doing household chores and looking after the children and play no, or little role in the outside society. From my own knowledge, inequalities can be linked with the marital law in which the Jackson case was included. The Jackson case was about Mr Jackson who had kept his wife locked up because she refused to have sex with him but due to the marital law, it denied him from doing so thereafter. This case enabled the marital law to be introduced which prevented wife-battering and marital rape as this law specified that a husband did not have complete control over his wife showing that changes to the law governing married life had started to take place after the introduction of this law.

Custody of children

Source 16 is a source that completely disagrees with the statement to the changing of law governing married life. ‘No legal right to a voice’ this shows that a woman has no right to say what they want or how they want their life to run. This agrees with the fact that women should remain silent and their husbands should make their decisions as they are head of the family. This quote refers to the ‘Angel in the House’ concept that women have no say in politics and should remain within the home to look after the children and do household chores without any relation to politics in the outside world. This source shows that by 1914, there were no changes to the law in governing married life which shows that the rules and regulations remained the same and there were no changes which would aid women to go outside of their home and take part in things which were only addressed to men such as work and the equality between the sexes.

Source 16 was from Elizabeth Robins which had been published in 1909 which shows that it was a primary source as she was present at the time. The year 1909 was still several years before 1914 which suggests that over the years although there were no changes to the law regarding married life in 1909, there was time for change. Active member of the WSPU this shows that due to Elizabeth being a member of the WSPU, she may have been trying to prove a point through her publication of Votes for Women.

From my own knowledge, the 1873 Custody of Children Act had not made any major difference as because this act did not give women the opportunity to give a voice for their children’s future. This shows that, due to women staying in the home looking after the children, they would know what is best for their children and not the husband as he played a role outside of the house mainly. If the woman was to know what was best for her children, she should have been able to give a voice for their children as they knew what was suitable for them and not their husbands as he would most likely assume what they believed was best for the future of their children.

Source 17, on the other hand contains views against the statement. ‘However nothing changed quickly’ this shows that changes to the law governing married life did change but not at a rapid rate. In addition to this, the quote also suggest that the changes which had taken place were not formidable, hence not major. ‘Weakening of the ‘natural’ order of things…husband was legally dominant in the marriage relationship’ this shows that men were unwilling towards change therefore there was no ‘formidable record of improvement.’ Due to it being a ‘natural’ order, it suggests that people believed in it which therefore led to difficulties in changing the way in which people thought. The husband being legally dominant shows that there had been no changes in the governing of married life by 1914 as there were still inequalities between men and women and their roles within the society. This source had been published in 1989 which was many years after 1914 showing that the changes to the law governing married life were not formidable. The publication proves the disagreement with the statement as it was evidence that there were no changes which were a ‘formidable record of improvement.’

From my own knowledge, Caroline Norton can be related to this as because the custody of her children took several years as well as the death of her son. This shows that Caroline’s husband was dominant in their married relationship as he took custody of their children who then sent them to Scotland without asking Caroline. The only opportunity which Caroline had to meet her children was when her youngest son died in 1842. Caroline Norton was an important figurehead of the time as her biography of her life became evidence for many people to approve their view that by 1914, the changes to the law governing married life was no a ‘formidable record of improvement’ as the relationship between Caroline and her husband did not show this. The reason being that Caroline was unable to receive the custody of her children and her husband beat her on many occasions showing that there were still no changes to the law governing married life by 1914.


In conclusion, I believe that by 1914, the changes to the law governing married life did not represent a ‘formidable record of improvement’ hence I disagree with the statement. I have this view because after 1914, there was still evidence that changes to the law governing married life had not change significantly. The changes which had been made, by introducing acts and laws which forbid the husband to do certain things with their wives after they were married were the only changes made but there were not many of these changes. The changes made were only minor and in many places there had been no changes to the law governing married life showing that the changes which had been made were not a ‘formidable record of improvement.’


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