In the beginning of 1800, Britain was a largely male-dominated country, where only a few men could vote. Laws changed, and by 1884, 5 million men could vote. However, the new law used the term ‘male person’, making any woman legally unable to vote. Women who wanted the vote stood for a campaign called ‘Women’s Suffrage’.
In the 1800s, laws began to change for women. From 1969, women gained the right to become involved in and vote for local councils, School Boards and Poor Law Boards, which looked after the welfare of the less fortunate and employed. This was an increase of control for women in society, letting women participate in decisions about education, poverty and local matters.
Employment for women was a contrast between social classes. In 1861, women outnumbered men in textile factories, yet many middle class women were unemployed because it was more acceptable in society for them to be reliant on husbands. It was believed that many jobs were too much for a woman to handle – however some women were proving this to be wrong. The first female doctors graduated in 1866, making a clear example for others.
It was a very different story for working class women. They were horrifically underpaid – earning less than half what men earned for exactly the same job. This is a clear example of how women were seen as inferior to men, many women believed that if they had the vote this would make them stand equally with men. Women working in factories had to endure terrible, unsafe conditions. Some female workers campaigned for better conditions and received them, like the ‘Match Girls’, from a London match factory who received better pay and conditions after a protest in 1888.
A big criticism from anti-Suffragists is that women weren’t intelligent enough to understand politics. In 1870 education at school was made compulsory for both boys and girls under ten – they received the same level of education. This put them at the same starting point in life, making the same careers possible for both sexes. In 1871, the first women were admitted to Cambridge University, although they could not have the same degrees as men until 1949. But in 1866 the first female doctors graduated fully qualified. Women like these set examples for others to follow and proved critics wrong; women were just as intelligent as men were.
Marriage and divorce were hard for women towards the beginning of the 19th century, but laws were changed to work in the divorced woman’s favour; in 1873 women separated from their husbands were allowed to see their children and in 1878 they could claim child maintenance. Laws also changed in favour of married women; in 1870 women could keep ï¿½200 of her earnings and in 1882 women owned all her property too. In 1882 it was illegal for a man to force his wife to stay at home if she did not consent. All of these laws slackened married men’s grip on their wives, which liberated them and made them less reliant on their husbands.
The changes in law lead to changes of the perception of women in society. As women began to get better jobs and education, it lead to more respect and more reason they should no longer be seen as inferior to men. Changes in the law gave women independence from men. But there were still big issues women wanted changing.