While the Married Women’s Property Act 1882 is often lauded as a victory for all women … [perhaps its] greatest triumph was not the actual provisions of the Act but the strategizing of women lobbying for reform stretching back to the Langham Place Group [and Barbara Leigh Smith Bodichon].
The Married Women’s Property Act 1882 provided for a married woman to hold all the property brought by her to the marriage or subsequently acquired thereafter as her ‘separate property’. A married woman possessed for the first time the ability to acquire and dispose of all kinds of property ‘as if she were a feme sole [single woman] without the intervention of any trustee’ (section 1). It removed many (though not all) of the legal disadvantages flowing from coverture (a common law doctrine conceptualised husband and wife as one person; that person, unsurprisingly, being the husband).
It instigated a critical reappraisal of property holding within marriage, precipitating important debates in the 1940s onwards that questioned whether it should be accepted that marriage frequently generated economic disadvantage.
The full version of this landmark was written by Andy Hayward.
British Library, ‘Women and Work’ https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/women-and-work