Do you agree with the view that, by 1882 the concept of ‘angel in the house’ had been overturned?
In source F a book by Caroline Norton published in 1854, she claims that her husband George Norton was holding her ‘children as hostages’ as he thought that if he had a great power over the children that he still had power over her. Nevertheless, he did not realise that she would fight and campaign to have the right to keep her children under her custody. By this time she was no longer a ‘angel in the house’ as she went against her husband, she also wanted a divorce but she could no divorce him for adultery as she had taken him back so that she could see her children.
In 1857 the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act was passed which made divorce a lot easier as it meant that divorce could happen through a court of law rather than by a Private Act of Parliament. This made divorce cheaper and a lot faster than it was before. There were also clauses in the Act, which gave women more rights to things such as her income if she was deserted by her husband and a woman was able to inherit or bequeath property the same as a single woman could. This was passed partly due to Caroline Norton’s efforts and her experiences influenced the clauses, which were inserted in to the Act. This Act meant that more and more women were failing to fit into the ‘angel in the house’ concept of creating a safe haven for her husband away from the harsh reality of the outside world.
Even thought laws such as the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act were but in to place men still thought that they had power over their wives. In 1891 there was the Jackson Case, Mr Jackson had been away in New Zealand and returned to find that his wife did not want to speak to him so he locked her up until her friends campaigned for her release. After a long legal battle, it was decided that Mr Jackson had no right to lock up his wife and force her to live with him. These laws were changing women’s attitudes toward how they thought they should be treated by men, they no longer were happy to stay at home and look after their house and family under the ‘angel in the house’ concept. However, men did not like this change and still wanted this power over their wives.
Other laws also came in to place like the Married women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882. These again were fought for by women such as Barbara Leigh Smith and gave women more right to their own property rather than the husband getting all of their property. In 1854 Barbara Leigh Smith started to campaign for a change in the laws on women’s property. She wrote articles, started petitions and set up all-woman committees. One petition that was handed in to parliament had 26,000 signatures. The first act allowed women to keep up to ï¿½200 in earnings and personal property, the second act gave women control over all money and property they brought with them in to marriage it also allowed them to continue with any trade or business they were working on before they were married, using their own money and property. This meant that women could work so could no longer follow the ‘angel in the house’ concept because they no longer had to stay at home.
The LNA was set up in 1869 lead by Josephine Butler to fight against the Contagious Diseases Act. This was significant because it meant that many middle- and upper-class women were campaigning to help prostitutes by wanting the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act. This had never happened before as middle- and upper-class women thought that they were above prostitutes and that prostitutes were dirty and brought it on themselves before this campaign began.
They thought that is was not right because they thought it was wrong to forcibly detain and check women for these diseases against their will. When the men that were using the prostitutes did not have to be detained and checked even thought if the men did not use them then there would not be the problem of prostitution as there would be no demand. This went against the ‘angel in the house’ concept as it meant that women were out campaigning rather than staying at home doing what was thought to be acceptable for middle- and upper-class women to be doing at the time such as corresponding.
Source G is a cartoon published on the front cover of the illustrated Police News in April 1891. It asks ‘Is Marriage a Failure?’ and it gives the answer of ‘As a Rule – Yes’. It shows illustrations depicting marriages of money, for divorce, of beatings and of obeying. This suggests that people only married for certain reasons. It also shows an illustration of a divorce court and two people walking their different ways with the other man and the other woman in the shadows suggesting that two people cannot commit to each other solely. This shows that people were no longer concerned with the ‘angel in the house’ concept as women were committing adultery and getting divorces. This source however depicts this situation as been the norm even thought there were people in happy marriages that would not want a divorce.
However, there was still a social stigma attached to getting a divorce. In middle- and upper-class societies, it was still not the done thing to be a divorce single woman or to commit adultery as they were meant to pure and save themselves for their husbands. So many women did not get divorces and stayed with their husbands. Also if a man did not want a divorce and it was the woman that was trying to divorce her husband she had to prove that he had committed adultery and either bigamy, rape, sodomy, bestiality, cruelty or long-term desertion as well. Where as a husband only had to prove that his wife was committing adultery. This made it harder for a wife to get a divorce if her husband did not want to divorce her so many just suffered at home and carried on living with the ‘angel in the house’ concept.
The Women’s Property rights were withdrawn at the last minute to allow the Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act to be passed and become law. This was because people were too afraid to present parliament with two bills trying to change the status of women would frighten the men MPs of the time. In addition, they thought that it would mean that they would vote against both of the bill thinking that too much was been done at one time too quickly. Additionally the Reform Act of 1867 did not include women’s franchise. So women had to stay with their husbands else they would have no right to their property as it legally all belonged to their husbands once they had married.
I would agree on the whole that by 1882 the concept of the ‘angel in the house’ had been mostly overturned. Women’s attitudes were changing and they wanted more and more rights. Middle- and upper-class women such as Caroline Norton and Josephine Butler were beginning campaign to get rights for themselves and others. Laws were been passed and cases won in court in favour of women. People were also starting to realise that more and more marriages were failing and people getting divorces.
However, by 1882 the ‘angel in the house’ concept had not been completely overturned, as there were still people that did still believe in the ‘angel in the house’ concept and not all marriages were failing and getting divorced. One reason for this was that there was a social stigma attached to getting a divorce that stopped some people, additionally divorce was still an expensive and a long process.