Shaking the foundation: Reform and extension of the laws of divorce in England, 1850-1937
Oliver, Arvella Brannon
Wiener, Martin J.
Master of Arts
The Royal Commissions on the Laws of Marriage and Divorce, 1850-1853 and 1909-1912, are the foundation of this survey of changing public and parliamentary attitudes toward marriage and divorce in England. Religious opinion carried great authority in the 1853 Commission and the parliamentary debates which produced the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857. This Act formalized the traditional Parliamentary procedure for divorce, and also legitimized the double standard of sexual behavior. After 1857, religious objectors to reform steadily lost ground, so that in 1912 they carried no weight with the Commissioners and did not, in the end, prevent further extension of the laws of divorce. The public was always divided over the issue, but the evidence shows a growing majority in support of equal grounds for women as well as extended grounds for both sexes as the century progressed. Changes in other areas of law, especially property law, made the double standard ever more contradictory to the advancing status of women in English society.