For various reasons (read: book research), I ended up researching the Reform Act of 1832 last year AND I’m still kind of pissed about it. Why am I holding a year long grudge against 200 year old legislation that was, for the most part, super necessary and critical to lessening the class divide in England? You’re in luck, because I’m going to tell you.
Let’s start with the good. In the early 19th century, England realized they had a serious problem in the form of the rotten boroughs. Back when parliamentary representation had been drawn up the boroughs made total sense, but time and industrialization had been steadily throwing things off for …a while. Enough so that, for instance, two rich landowners in their own district had the same number of parliamentary representatives as the entire city of Manchester. And no, Manchester wasn’t small, even back then.
You can see where that would be a problem. And also how it probably accidentally inspired deliberate gerrymandering.
Now, obviously, those two dudes (and a bunch of other rich dudes heavily benefiting from the outdated system) fought hard against losing their political advantage, but lose they did in 1832 when the Reform Act said enough is enough and re-drew the districts to better represent the whole country, not just rich dudes in tweed.
I can hear you over there, being like “That seems…reasonable?” It is, and if they’d stopped there, I wouldn’t be mad. But they didn’t, did they?
So, there they are. Rich dudes and poor dudes, Lords and commoners, coming together in Parliament to do good work for class equality. And then, before they inked the deal, some upstanding member of government was like “But wait. Have we fucked over women yet?”
They hadn’t, and you CAN’T HAVE THAT.
So, at the end of this great big GOOD thing…they tacked on a little addendum. Women were no longer allowed to represent themselves in legal matters. They had to have a male relative do it, or hire somebody.
You see, at the time (and for a long ass time before that, don’t let anyone tell you different) if a woman could reach the age of twenty-two without getting saddled with a husband, she pretty much had the same rights as a man. Prior to that, she was a ward of her parents. If she husbanded up–she became legal property. BUT. Make it to twenty-two, and a woman could own her own shit and bring charges against people in court for trying to slow her roll.
UNTIL the Reform Act of 1832. After that, she could still own stuff, but she’d have to have a man handle the sale for her. And if someone tried to come perpetrate some nonsense in, on, or around that property…she’d better have a brother or something who could take it to court for her.
And that, folks, is why I’m still mad a year later. They were so close. SO CLOSE to just doing a good thing. But that’s not the way the world works. Someone’s always got to lose.
I might have managed to get over it–it was two hundred years ago–except it has ended up being kind of important in my new book, The Runaway Duchess. It doesn’t have a release date yet, but I’m sure you’ll hear plenty about it on twitter when I have one.