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Marriage: property and children

Women who held property of any kind were required to give up all rights to it to their husbands on marriage. However, a long-running campaign by various women's groups led in 1870 to the Married Women's Property Act.

Women's property

This allowed any money which a woman earned to be treated as her own property, and not her husband's. Further campaigning resulted in an extension of this law in 1882 to allow married women to have complete personal control over all of their property.

In 1922, the Law of Property Act enabled a husband and wife to inherit each other's property, and also granted them equal rights to inherit the property of intestate children. Under legislation passed in 1926 women were allowed to hold and dispose of property on the same terms as men.

Treatment of children

The treatment of children within marriage was first addressed by Parliament in 1889 in the Prevention of Cruelty to, and Protection of Children Act.

The Act followed several years of campaigning by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, founded in 1884, and a House of Lords inquiry in 1888.

Ill-treatment by parents

It allowed the state to intervene in situations of ill-treatment by parents, and gave powers to the police to arrest anyone found harming a child.

Police authorities could also enter a home if a child was believed to be at risk. In the five years that followed, there were some 6,000 prosecutions under the Act.

In 1908, as a result of growing concern over child protection, Parliament passed the Incest Act which for the first time defined incest as a crime.

Related information

Historic Hansard

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Married Women€™s Property Bill

The House of Commons debates the Second Reading of the Law of Property Bill

The House of Lords debates the Second Reading of the Protection of Children Bill

Also within Living Heritage