Maggie as a feminist

There\’s something lurking around in the back of my memory. That it was only in 1988 that women were finally, legally, independent of their men in an economic sense.

Women became, for the first time for all of them, fully independent economic units. They could own their own property, earn their own incomes and be taxed on them individually. Take out a mortgage, open a bank account without some father or husband signing for them.

Now I know that these things arrived in stages. But from that, ever failing, memory I get that the final act was in 1988.

So, any of you brains out there remember which Act it was? And was it a government bill or a bankbench one?


19 thoughts on “Maggie as a feminist”

  1. Here’s a question. Those things like opening a bank account, signing a lease etc needing a man’s signature. Were they private sector rules that needed forcible banning by the State, or were they a rule made by the State?

  2. IanB, depends when you’re talking about I think.

    After the Married Women’s Property Act (1880s?) I think it was a commercial thing to make the husband jointly liable for the wife’s debts. Once women could own their own property and be sued in their own right, their debts were their own, not their husband’s. Fine feminist principle, but not much use to the lender if the husband owned most of the property and the wife in practice had very few assets.

    If you mean before the Married Women’s Property Act, I’m not sure, but probably to do with making sure you meet the common law requirements to be able to sue the husband for the wife’s debt (even more important then, because if you couldn’t claim against the husband you couldn’t claim against anyone).

  3. “That it was only in 1988 that women were finally, legally, independent of their men in an economic sense.” Good Lord, what wild exaggeration Worstall. As the chaps above said, in ’88 all that happened was independent income tax.

    This fascinating law
    was so effective that there were almost no court cases about it – I’m tempted to adopt that as a measure of a law’s success.

  4. As others have said, it was the independent taxation of husbands and wives; a measure no doubt welcomed by leftist feminists at the time, but nowadays, it seems, only when they like the cut of the subjects’ jib – i.e. not Mr & Mrs Philip Green.

  5. Well dearieme, if it wasn’t 1988 what year was it then? It certianly wasn’t 1919, ‘cos I remember when my parents split up my mum needed a manly signature on the lease for the flat we moved into. That was 1976. Or 77. Somewhere round there.

  6. Dunno, Ian B. Why did she “need” it; Law of the Land or business habit? Did she need it because she was a wife, or a separated wife, or a woman?

    “Women … could … [t]ake out a mortgage, open a bank account without some father or husband signing for them” is tosh; my wife had done those as a single woman long before ’88 : indeed, before ’76.

  7. I don’t know, and I can’t ask her, because she’s dead, so I’m interested to see if somebody can actually answer Tim’s question. I remember it coming up in discussion and her saying she specifically had to get a male signature at that time. In a discussion about how things had changed for women since then.

    So, I don’t know the answer, but I would like to know what the answer is.

  8. There is a difference between the passage of a law removing the requirement on a bank to get a man’s signature before a woman can open a bank account, and a law prohibiting a bank from applying such a rule on their own initiative.

    For the first, it’s the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act. For the second, one of the equal treatment directives from the EU, I expect.

  9. Women are no more than defective men. When the world returns to that view (as it will, eventually), life will be better for us all.

  10. dearime’s suggestion, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, isn’t about women owning property or being independent of their husbands.

    That Act prevented various public or semi-public bodies from disallowing women, allowing them to become civil servants, serve on juries, represent clients in court and go to university.

    So far as I’m aware, and can check with a brief search, the history is:

    – since the Norman Conquest, at common law, married women (except royalty) could not own any property; everything is controlled by the husband. Blackstone said that the “legal existence of the woman is suspended during the marriage, or at least is incorporated into that of her husband”.

    – that began to change in 1870 with the first Married Women’s Property Act, which allowed married women to own property – but only if they earned it themselves or inherited it after marriage.

    – from 1882 they basically got full legal independence; the second Married Women’s Property Act allowed married women to own and control anything. It took income tax law a century to catch up with this (hence Tim’s original post).

    Allowing married women to own property was widely regarded as a fiddle, permitting bankrupt businessmen to shelter some of their assets (“put the house in the wife’s name”).

    The only reason I can think for Ian B’s mother not being able to sign a lease without her husband also signing is a commercial one. By the 1970s there was no legal restriction on her (and hadn’t been for nearly a century) but the landlord would have wanted someone more solvent to be co-signatory and so effectively guarantee the rent.

  11. One other thought; Ian, how old was your mother at the time? I’ve a nagging memory (that Google isn’t helping resolve) that the minimum age to enter into a real property contract was 21 until fairly recently.

  12. “dearime’s suggestion, the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919, ..” wasn’t a suggestion about when women were liberated from needing a husband’s signature – I have no idea when that happened. It was an attempt to draw attention to an admirable law, to show how old it is, and to suggest that the best laws are the ones that people immediately abide by without lots of court cases being necessary.

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