A Brief Summary of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women (1854)

In simple terms, Barbara Bodichon launched the modern women’s movement.

Joanne Conaghan

A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon is an 18-page pamphlet published anonymously in 1854 and written by Barbara Leigh Smith [later Bodichon] (1827-1891).

Bodichon had no legal training, nor was she a high profile author or commentator. Her pamphlet offered a concise, unadulterated account of the main provisions governing the legal status of women. It proved both popular and provocative, running to a second edition in 1856 and a third, expanded edition in 1869.

After publication Bodichon, encouraged by the Law Amendment Society, drew together a group of interested women, forming a committee to campaign for legislative reform of marriage laws leading ultimately to the Married Women’s Property Act 1882.

Without doubt, the Summary was instrumental in bringing the issue of women’s legal status to the forefront in mid-nineteenth century England. Yet, what followed is of equal importance, the campaign for married women’s property reform which Bodichon led, can be seen as the first organised campaign of the nascent women’s movement. Indeed, looking at her life as a whole, and the many and diverse projects she initiated, what strikes Conaghan is her ability to engender collective feminist engagement in the social and political affairs of the day. In simple terms, Barbara Bodichon launched the modern women’s movement.

The full version of this landmark is written by Joanne Conaghan.

 

Learn More

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon: British Activist (Encyclopaedia Britannica) https://www.britannica.com/biography/Barbara-Leigh-Smith-Bodichon

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, ‘A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon’ (Indiana University: Victorian Women Writers Projecthttp://webapp1.dlib.indiana.edu/vwwp/view?docId=VAB7030&chunk.id=d1e455&toc.id=&toc.depth=1&brand=vwwp&doc.view=print&anchor.id=#bodichon-note01

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, ‘A Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women Together with a Few Observations Thereon’ (Internet Archive,  Boston Public Library, 1856) https://archive.org/stream/briefsummaryinpl00smit#page/n7/mode/2up

Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon, Women and Work (British Library, Bosworth and Harrison, 1857) https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/women-and-work