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The Married Women’s Property Act 1870 (33 & 34 Vict c 93) was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that allowed married women to be the legal owners of the money they earned and to inherit property.

Before 1870, a married woman forfeited the rights to any property she owned to her husband. Under the legal doctrine of coverture, the two persons were henceforth regarded as one, and “that one [was] the husband”.[1] In addition, any property inherited by the woman, or money earned by her during the marriage, also legally belonged to her husband. Although ownership of all a husband’s property would normally revert to his wife on his death,[1] the man was legally entitled to dispose of it as he wished during his lifetime, and even will it away to someone else. [2]

Beginning in the mid-19th century, women started to campaign for married and unmarried women to have equal legal rights, culminating in the unsuccessful introduction into parliament of the Married Women’s Property Bill in 1868.[3]

Major provisions

  • Money earned by a wife from any employment, occupation or trade, or her literary, scientific, artistic or other skills, were to be held by her for her own separate use, independently from her husband, as was the income from any investments made using that money.
  • A wife was allowed to keep any property she inherited from her next of kin as her own, subject to that property not being bound in a trust. She could also inherit money up to £200, equivalent to about £130,000 as at 2021.[a]Calculated using average earnings.[4]
  • A married woman was allowed to hold rented property in her own name and to inherit rented property.
  • Married women were made equally liable with their husbands for the maintenance of their children.

The Act did not apply retrospectively, only to marriages after its passage into law.[5]


a Calculated using average earnings.[4]