The Victorian women forced to give up their babies | Life and style | The Guardian
Male anxieties in relation to both physical and mental health in the Victorian era on to its subordinates:' women, children, the lower classes and other nations. A new exhibition looks at what became of these women. to be parted, because no woman could raise a child born outside marriage and remain Harriet Hooper met the father of her child at a singing class run by a church. One of the few legal advantages of marriage for a woman was that her . (a sort of 19th-century restraining order) and the provision for alimony and child support. laws specifically addressing abortion in the America of , the only source.
Under them, a single woman had few special strictures placed upon her property rights. Her married sisters, however, found themselves subordinate to and bound by the decisions of their husbands. Under the common law doctrine of coverture, a woman's property usually went to her husband with the whispering of the "I do.
He also gained control of any wages or other income accrued by his spouse.
Technically, this meant that a man could do anything he wished with his wife's material possessions. He could sell them, give them away, or simply destroy them as was his wont. Married women were also forbidden to convey sell, give, or will any property. How strictly this was adhered to depended upon the couple.
Each was different and, like today, decision-making was shared to varying degrees. Legally, however, the husband had the final say — if he chose to exercise it. Common law principles were generally accepted throughout Indiana, with the noted exception of utopian New Harmony, where Robert Owen's followers espoused beliefs in the true equality of women.
There was some solace for married women under common law besides charging the husband to support his wife. The law of dower not to be confused with dowry was also a part of its tenets. Dower stipulated that one-third of the husband's estate one-half if the couple was childless was reserved for the wife. Although this might seem a small share for a lifetime's efforts, considering the small concern shown for women in other ares of common law, it seems almost enlightened by the day's standards.
Dower also furnished the wife a weapon to protect herself while her husband was alive. As she was entitled to her share of the estate, no real estate transaction could be take place without her approval. This offered a means of asserting some control over her husbands actions. Indiana law recognized both dower and approval of conveyance rights.
Married women had another legal ally, equity law. Equity law, as usually practiced in chancery courts, was adjudicated on the "inherent justice" of each case and acted as a counterbalance on the scales of justice to the more restrictive common law doctrines. When adopted, the tenets of equity law could help loosen some of the strictures placed on married women — if the state and courts allowed their use. One such feature was the separate estate, in which property could be set aside under the wife's control.
Such property could have been willed to the wife, brought into the marriage, or been given to her by her husband. This afforded the wife some freedom of action and protection.
Victoria and Albert Museum
Indiana's law which permitted wives control of land willed to them is an example of equity law. Indiana must also be credited for several changes, mainly through the efforts of Robert Dale Owen, which somewhat bettered the condition of married women.
During the legislative session Owen pushed through a bill over the vehement protests of a fellow lawmaker who thought it a subversion of society that replaced dower with a provision guaranteeing women two-thirds of her husband's estate. Unfortunately, it was repealed in when some legislators still angry about the law took advantage of Owen's move to the U. Congress to strike his measure from the books.
Ironically, during that same session lawmakers gave married women the power to devise wills. Indiana also afforded some protection for married women by excluding property brought into the marriage from being used to ameliorate debts against the husband's estate. By the same token, it also awarded an adulterous wife's property to the aggrieved husband forever. An aggrieved wife, however, was only entitled to her one-third share of her husband's estate.
Hoosier women, then, lived under legal restrictions no worse — and in some cases better — than other American women. Again, much depended upon the couple's relationship and many wives enjoyed freedoms above those accorded by the law books.
A survey of early Hamilton County [IN] probate records showed most wives received at least their legal share.
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Trader and businessman John Conner allotted his wife only her minimum portion, while others were more generous. William Dyer gave his wife land and personal property exceeding one-third of his estate and Robert Colborn and S. Walls gave their wives their entire estate. Walls, though, attached an addendum typical of the time which stated in the event of his wife's remarriage, all of the estate would pass to his sons. Divorce Divorce was neither prevalent nor particularly acceptable during the first half of the nineteenth century.
There were strong social and religious objections to the sundering of what many viewed as a sacred commitment. The whole "concept of divorce" was anathema to many and was usually applied only as a least resort.
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This does not mean it was virtually unknown in Indiana and the midwest. The Hoosier state, like others, viewed marriage as a civil contract and used its "legal Sovereignty So liberal were they that Indiana might be called the Reno of the nineteenth century and a movement grew after the Civil War to reform the Hoosier state's pliant divorce statutes. Indiana was such a divorce mecca that famous archaeologist Heinrich Schliemann, discoverer of Troy, moved to Indianapolis for a period in specifically to obtain a divorce.
This liberalization of Indiana's divorce laws, probably an outgrowth of the "New Harmony influence," evolved gradually, however. Indiana early on recognized that it was an "interested third party" in the marriage contract.
In territorial law allowed the General and Circuit Courts to grant absolute divorce in cases of "bigamy, impotency, and adultery. During the territorial period more than half of the approved petitions 12 of 20 were instigated by women. Such was the case of Jane Richardson of Harrison County ironic, as the county was named after the governor who disliked divorce who sought a divorce after her husband "connected himself with a banditti of horse thieves" and subsequently abandoned her and their two children.
In legislators added to the reasons thought proper to entail divorce by allowing the granting of petitions based on abandonment and conviction of a felony.
Absolute divorce was also acceptable in cases of cruel treatment by the husband which might endanger the wife. This last provision indicates that the lawmakers did not think "that the number of men dominated by their wives" was numerous enough to justify legislation for their [the husband's] protection.
The governing body also sought to reinforce the gravity of divorce by stating that "minor grievances were not cause for divorce," no matter how "inconvenient the marriage might become. It was not a provision that simply lay unheeded on the book.
The first divorce petition filed in Hamilton County was disallowed by the court and prosecutor as being without just cause. After attaining statehood inIndiana made further additions and refinements to its divorce code. By habitual drunkenness for two years or more by the husband became justification for divorce. And, in an important move, it gave the courts increased discretionary powers.
In addition to the specific reasons spelled out in the law, it allowed judges to grant decrees "in any other case where the court, in the exercise of sound discretion, shall deem it reasonable. With the Revised Statutes of the state sought to "integrate all matters of domestic relations into one comprehensive law. It also maintained the important discretionary powers of the courts. Other provisions of the laws included protections for women. One section provided for restraints against a violent husband while the divorce was pending a sort of 19th-century restraining order and the provision for alimony and child support.
If the divorce was precipitated by the husband's misconduct, the wife was entitled to immediate possession of her share of her real estate as if widowed, and was to receive the property dowry she brought into the marriage. Conversely, if the wife were the adulterer, her husband could hold her personal estate forever.Beyoncé - Best Thing I Never Had (Video)
The one major change was the elimination of the menso et thoro decree, which was tantamount to a permanent legal separation, but these were seldom used in Indiana, this was not a particularly important action.
In part, this was because it betokened visible female freedom from social control. As daughters, employees or servants, young women were subject to male authority; as whores they enjoyed economic and personal independence. The response was a sustained cultural campaign, in sermons, newspapers, literary and visual art, to intimidate, shame and eventually drive 'fallen women' from the streets by representing them as a depraved and dangerous element in society, doomed to disease and death.
Refuges were opened and men like future Prime Minister W. Gladstone patrolled at night to persuade girls to leave their life of 'vice'. In actuality, the seldom-voiced truth was that in comparison to other occupations, prostitution was a leisured and profitable trade, by which women improved their circumstances, helped to educate siblings and often saved enough to open a shop or lodging house. The introduction of the Contagious Diseases Acts whereby prostitute women were medically examined and detained if deemed to suffer from venereal disease in order to protect their sexual partners, mainly soldiers and sailors - gave rise to one of the era's most successful and characteristic reform campaigns.
The anti-contagious diseases CD movement, led by Josephine Butler, argued that CD examinations effectively encouraged prostitution; that women should not be thus scapegoated or deprived of civil liberty; and that male lust was to blame for public vice.
Women and the Law in Early 19th Century - Conner Prairie
These were important issues; in addition, the emergence of 'polite' women speaking on topics hitherto deemed improper for them to discuss underlined the changing roles of the Victorian period. By the s and s, evolutionary ideas of male sexuality as a biological imperative, which added fuel to many male writings on gender, were countered by those who argued that 'civilisation' enabled humans to transcend animal instincts. This view acquired a public voice through the Social Purity campaign against the sexual 'double standard', and for male as well as female continence outside marriage.
Though female Purity campaigners were often ridiculed as 'new puritans' who had failed to attract a spouse, the movement did succeed in raising public concern over brothels, indecent theatrical displays and images of naked women in art - the reason why Victorian female nudes are idealised and air-brushed. Private sexual behaviour is hard to assess, though there are many hints that 'considerate' husbands, who did not insist on intercourse, were admired, not least because of the high maternal mortality rate.
But there is plain evidence that the early Victorian family of six to eight or more children was on its way out by This took place despite the fact that contraceptive knowledge and methods were not publicly available, as the famous obscenity trial of Annie Besant and Charles Bradlaugh for publishing a sixpenny book on the subject in made clear.
Family limitation was accompanied by challenges to prevailing attitudes to sexual relations from the New Woman and her male supporters. Visible homosexuality Although heterosexuality was held to be both normal and natural throughout the period, the later years also witnessed a visible increase in homosexuality, mainly in men and especially but not exclusively in the intelligentsia. While largely clandestine owing to laws prohibiting 'indecency' in public the artist Simeon Solomon was one of those so prosecutedprivate male homosexual acts were not explicitly and severely legislated against untilwhen gay sex behind closed doors was made a criminal offence.
This led, most notoriously, to the imprisonment in of Oscar Wilde, playwright and poseur. Reasons for the emergence of a distinctly gay subculture within s' Decadence movement include the promotion of 'Greek' or Platonic relationships by some university dons; the extended bachelorhood that resulted from prescriptions of financial prudence and sexual continence; and a counter-cultural defiance of orthodox moral teaching, which gave added allure to the forbidden and deviant.
The supremely Decadent drawings of Aubrey Beardsley vividly evoke the atmosphere of this moment. At the very end of the century, questions of sexual identity were also subject to speculative and would-be scientific investigation, dubbed sexology This led to the identification of a 'third' or 'intermediate' sex, for which Ellis used the term 'sexual inversion'.
Writer and social reformer Edward Carpenterwho lived with a younger male partner, adapted the word 'Uranian' to denote male and female homosexuality, and around the same time, Lesbian and Sapphic came into use as terms for female relationships.
Today, the best-known lesbian relationship in Victorian Britain has become that of Anne Lister of Shibden in west Yorkshire and her partner, with its distinctly erotic as well as romantic elements.
Other couples include poets Katherine Bradley and her niece Edith Cooper, who wrote collaboratively from the s under the name Michael Field, and the Irish writers Edith Somerville and Violet Martin. In the Victorian period itself, American actress Charlotte Cushman and French painter Rosa Bonheur were well known for their openly 'masculine' independence and demeanour.
In the fields of gender, health, medicine and sexuality, the Victorians seldom lived up to their stereotypes.