Respectability, shame and allegations of extra marital crimes in the Divorce Court of England and Wales, 1909 -1923

Ranyard, Diane (2017) Respectability, shame and allegations of extra marital crimes in the Divorce Court of England and Wales, 1909 -1923. In: Rethinking Gender: New Perspectives and Future Directions, 10th June 2017, The Bedford Centre for the History of Women, Royal Holloway, University of London.

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Item Type:Conference or Workshop contribution (Paper)
Item Status:Live Archive

Abstract

From 1857 (the year of its foundation) to 1923 (the year of the Matrimonial Causes Act) the Divorce Court hosted a number of highly-gendered trials. Women petitioning for divorce were legally required to supply proof of their husband's adultery plus another marital crime (such as cruelty, desertion or bigamy); men had only to demonstrate their wives' sexual infidelity. Yet, despite the historical attention paid to this gendered legal disparity, little attention has been paid to date on the nature of the extra marital crimes alleged by wives, seeking to free themselves from unsatisfactory marriages. This paper considers women's treatment by the Divorce Court, through examining in detail case studies of allegations of extra marital crimes in divorce petitions. Showing the extent to which these extra marital crimes forced plaintiffs to open up their private lives to the public gaze of the Divorce Court., and subject themselves to the scrutiny, shame, and damage to their respectability that this entailed.
This paper will present unique quantitative data surrounding the use of these extra marital crimes in wives’ petitions for divorce between 1909 and 1923, a period that has often been overlooked. This data will be used, alongside the detailed case studies, to argue that during this period, the way that wives navigated their way through the Divorce Court changed. Wives increasingly used the extra marital crime of desertion in their divorce petitions; which was less intrusive into the private realm of the marital home. And decreasingly used the extra marital crime of cruelty; in which the testimony often included more private and shameful details of physical, sexual or mental cruelty.

Keywords:Divorce, Gender, England, Wales, Respectability, Shame, Marital Crime
Subjects:V Historical and Philosophical studies > V210 British History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V323 Family History
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V145 Modern History 1900-1919
M Law > M111 English Law
V Historical and Philosophical studies > V320 Social History
Divisions:College of Arts > School of History & Heritage > School of History & Heritage (Heritage)
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ID Code:29751
Deposited On:27 Nov 2017 07:06

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