Women’s Rights in the 18th Century

Women's Rights in the 18th CenturyAs stated above, an unmarried woman, for all intents and purposes, belonged, by law, to her father, as if she were some kind of property or material possession. Her father was allowed to do as he pleased with her. He could beat her up, keep all the money she earned (if she even was allowed to work) and marry her off to whomever he pleased. A married woman, on the other hand, belonged to her husband and he could also beat her without being punished (save a few extreme exceptions) since she was no more than an object, in the eyes of the law. The man would also be in charge of her finances, so even if she earned money through working, or if she had inherited a large fortune, it was the husband’s prerogative to dispose of it, administrate it or simply keep it. So, as one can imagine, two hundred years ago, it made no difference for a woman whether she was married or not.

When it came to the dissolution of a marriage, it was only the man who could file for divorce and not women. In extreme cases or under extreme circumstances, the wife would have to produce proof that acts of cruelty (for example if the husband had beaten the children) had been committed and present it to the court. If the court decided to grant them a divorce, then all the children would belong to the husband and the mother would not have any right to see them.

Women also fought for their right to education, especially higher education at universities, but this would not be possible until the 19th century. However, the first women allowed to study at university were required to assist in a separate college, and even though they could take exams, they could not even get an official degree.