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UBC Theses and Dissertations

If the evil ever occurs : the 1873 Married Women's Property Act : law, property and gender relations in 19th century British Columbia Falcon, Paulette Yvonne Lynnette


This study will examine the circumstances surrounding the passage of the British Columbia Married Women's Property Act, 1873 and the judicial response to it. The statute was an attempt on the part of legislators to clarify and facilitate married women's actions in the marketplace, while accomodating new ideas about women's place in society. But despite the rhetoric about women's rights and the bill's more egalitarian potential, it precipitated no domestic revolution. The courts, in turn, ignored the legislation's more liberal provisions and interpreted it solely as a protective measure. Notwithstanding their different views on gender relations and marital property reform, legislators and judges shared common beliefs about the importance of family life. Consequently, the law defended women's legal rights as family members more than as individuals. Overall, the bill represented a compromise. Although it was meant to alleviate some of a wife's legal disabilities so that she could participate more freely in the economic life of the community, it was also grounded in the Victorian paternalism of the legislators who enacted it and the judges who enforced it. As a result, despite the challenge presented by the provisions of the Married Women's Property Act, the doctrine of marital unity proved remarkably resilient.

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