3. Matrimonial Privileges Of Women


The law of George III., punishing by damages –usually vindictive damages– violation of breach of promise of marriage. The women’s privilege to commit perjury plays a great part in this process. A woman swears a man promised to marry her. Judge and jury hold this statement false, and mark the result. No one suggests that she should be indicted for perjury. On the contrary, the grateful male litigant, happy to escape, settles £3,000 on her (Gore v . Lord Sudley, 10 June, 1896).

Furthermore, by custom of the tribunals creating the Common Law, this action is confined in its benefits to woman. A man suing in a like case is laughed out of Court. This may or may not be a just privilege conferred on women–that of breaking their promise free of legal penalty, but it is obviously a privilege conferred by the practice of the Courts on women as such. The rules of law invalidating contracts obtained by fraud, duress, or undue influence, have no effect as against a woman inducing a man, by subtle device or threats of scandal, to marry her. An experienced woman of 30 can entrap a boy of 22 into such a promise; the Court takes no notice of the invalidity from point of view of fair play. But a man suing a woman of any age would be laughed out of Court.


This is, of course, a minor privilege compared with that of exacting damages for breach of promise. But it is a real privilege, nevertheless. A man gives valuable property–jewellery, furniture, or money–to a woman under an agreement to marry, fraudulently entered into on her part, inasmuch as she has no power to carry out her promise, being already married or preferring someone else. The man, in practice (whatever theory may be) is not assisted to recover the property, and the magistrate rebukes him for “unmanly” behaviour! Contrast the other side. A woman makes a loan to a man whom she knows to he married. He receives a sentence of five years penal servitude.


As against her husband, the law confers on a woman who has married him the unilateral privilege of maintenance. The earlier law made this privilege dependent on her obedience, cohabitation with her husband, and 6 her observance of outwardly decent behaviour. The present law has set her free from all these restraints. Since 1857 the Secular Court, which then assumed jurisdiction in matrimonial matters, has given up all attempt to enforce obedience, but the most violent methods, including imprisonment and sequestration of the property of the husband are employed to enforce her claim to maintenance. By a recent Statute (the Act of 1884) the process of imprisonment to make a wife obey an order to return to her husband was abolished. By the famous decision in the Jackson Case the husband was prohibited from himself using force to compel her to return. But the deserted wife by magisterial order can get her deserting husband sent to gaol [jail]. And neither legislature nor the Courts, which took away her duties of obedience and cohabitation, ever dreamt of depriving her of her privilege of being maintained by the man whom she can flout and insult with impunity. As a successful lady litigant (May, 1896) remarked to her husband, “There is no law which compels me to obey or honour you, but there is a law that you must keep me.” This woman tersely sums up the position. In the case of a man of property the Courts will expropriate him for the benefit of his wife. In the case of a wage-earner the Courts from police magistrates to Supreme Court will decree him to be her earning slave, bound to work for her or go to prison. A wife, no matter if rolling in wealth, is not obliged to contribute a penny to her husband’s support, even if he be incapacitated from work through disease or accident. The sole exception which the law makes in derision is that if he be actually in such destitution as to go to the workhouse, then the wealthy wife is obliged to pay, not to her husband, but the local authorities, the cost of his maintenance at the exiguous scale usual in such cases. Even a wife who, against her husband’s wish, leaves his house after assaulting and insulting him can obtain against him an order for restitution of conjugal rights. This is a mere preliminary to form a basis for a claim for sequestration of his property for her maintenance. The Act of 1884 forbids the Court to order imprisonment for refusal to obey an order of restitution of conjugal rights, but enables such a refusal to be made a ground for confiscation of the husband’s property in favour of the wife. No reciprocity here. Imprisonment before 1884 affected both husband and wife. Sequestration of property, the husband alone. Now imprisonment is abolished for the wife, and so the wife goes scot free, while the husband is as much bound as ever in person and in property. This iniquitous statutory rule is made use of by women who have no wish whatever to return to their husbands. After overbearing ill-usage and desertion of the husband for years, the wife applies to the Court for an order for restitution, well knowing that her unfortunate victim will not obey the order. Then the robbery of his property is completed by a second order in Court. But no disobedience to a like order on her part enables her property to be confiscated, or herself to be sent to prison.


By the Married Women’s Property Acts a woman has complete control over all property acquired or inherited by her in any way, free from any claim on the part of her husband. With cynical injustice she is left in possession of all her old claims on her husband’s property, and the latest charter of female privilege, the Statute of 1895, gives her claims regardless even of her adultery.

This matter deserves more attention than it usually receives. Let us consider the topics in order:–

(a) Source of Women’s Property.

The piteous tales of artistic working women, of wives robbed by their worthless husbands, from the Mrs. Morton of fact to the Miss Trotwood of fiction, formed the foundation of the claim for a revision of the law. Liberty for women to retain their own earnings. Obvious equity here! But the bulk of women’s property, in 99 out of every 100 cases, is not earned by them at all. It arises from gift or inheritance from parents, relatives, or even the despised husband. Whenever there is any earning in the matter it is notoriously earning by some mere man or other. Nevertheless, under the operation of the law, property is steadily being concentrated into women’s hands. “Once Stridhan [Woman’s property] always Stridhan.”

(b) Control through Life.

The wife has absolute and unfettered control over her own property, man-earned though it be, and her person. This is the new style. But the gaoler and the broad arrow [government mark of ownership] make the husband, her earning slave, to be insulted and jeered with impunity. This is the old style with a difference. “All yours is mine, and all mine’s my own.” Mere man is not worth considering when the material aggrandizement of women is concerned !

(c) Control at death.

By the Married Women’s Property Acts, a woman has complete power of leaving her property away from her husband, by will, even though in his prosperity he gave it to her. The husband can be prevented from doing so, by the wife’s suing him for maintenance, when his property, or as much of it as judges think fit, is settled on her, and can no longer he disposed of by his 9 will. Conveyancers aver that the steady tendency for a woman to leave property acquired from some man always to a woman. A silent revolution in succession is being accomplished. But the man is left under his old burdens of supporting his wife.

(d) Bankrupting Husband for Money Lent.

A wife is privileged to recover judgement against, and bankrupt her husband for any money she may have lent him, and this privilege is no dead letter. A husband does not lend, but gives money to his wife. If he were to attempt by legal documents to turn it into a loan, he would discover once again that what is sauce for the goose, is by no means sauce for the gander. There is no case on record of a husband daring to sue his wife for a loan.


Not merely as against the husband, but against her creditors, the married woman is in a position of enviable privilege. A married woman, even when separated from her husband, and released from all duties towards him or her children, retains her privilege of having her property exempt from seizure for debt. Technicalities would be tedious, but the following is the practical working of the law. In legal phraseology, if a married woman enters into a contract, and if (an important if) there is no restraint against anticipation in her settlement, then her property, or some of it, may be attached. As to the restraint against anticipating income, this clause, introduced by Lord Chancellor Thurlow to protect an interesting relative of his against her husband, is practically to be found in every settlement, being now useful against the creditor, although no longer needed against the husband.


The husband is liable, and his wife is not, for all the civil wrongs (torts) she may commit. He has no control over her, but serves as her whipping-boy. This, though she publicly defames and insults him in every way, and has deserted him. As Sir Frank Lockwood put it, one has the deep consolation of knowing that if Mrs. Jackson utters slanders Mr. Jackson can be sued. Under the older English law, when the wife was “sous la verge de son marrye” (the canon law sub virga viri [under the rod of the man/husband ] ), the rule was reasonable enough. Now, however, it is only an illustration of the pro-feminist bias of the Courts. Every moth-eaten scrap of privilege, which is in favour of the woman, they retain. All privileges of the husband, no matter how firmly established, they deny as having ever existed. Look at the astounding declaration of Lord Halsbury in the Jackson case, that the husband never had the right in English law to restrain his wife ! ! !



Again, a pious archæology animates the judges when the woman is to be benefited. Notwithstanding the revolutionary changes in the law, another old-world privilege of the “woman under the rod” is reserved for the dominating female of to-day. If her husband is present when she is committing a crime, a married woman is presumed by an intelligent administration of justice to have acted under his coercion. This is sometimes amusing, when, as often happens, the woman is the instigator of the crime.

This precious privilege is nominally confined to cases of minor importance, and in special is supposed not to affect murder. In practice it affects all crimes, and is no dead letter, as illustrative cases can show.


No man can obtain a divorce except by a terribly expensive process in the High Court at a minimum charge of forty pounds. This means a denial of justice to the vast bulk of the male population. Any woman, by the asking for it, can get a summary separation and confiscation of her husband’s property, and an order for her maintenance out of his earnings from the nearest police court. Recent Statutes confer this privilege. This process, which costs only a few shillings, the husband has to pay for. But divorce or no divorce, the wife’s property, where-ever acquired, cannot he touched. There is no question here of interfering with her “earnings” though she be an opera singer with £40,000 a year. Similarly with her capitalised property, which, though man-acquired, as usual, cannot be touched. If her property, as well as her husband’s, has been handed over to the trustees of her marriage settlement the Court has some power to make orders as to the income of that property, but in practice uses it only for the benefit of the children. No matter how flagrant her conduct the wildest dream never suggested that the wife’s “earnings” (as artist, opera singer, or what not) no matter how exorbitant, should ever be touched for the benefit even of her children. That a portion should be sequestrated for the maintenance of the husband–even though a husband is incapacitated by disease or accident–of course would be a barbarous suggestion, hardly to be discussed outside Bedlam.

But precisely analogous orders as to the hard-earned and miserably stinted wages of the male earner are made with scandalous levity in the Police Court every day. A working man, earning eighteen or twenty shillings a week, is calmly ordered to provide twelve shillings a week for life for the keep of a clamorous and malignant shrew. The denial to the working man of the same facilities for summary separation, through the police court, granted to every brawling wife who chooses to ask for it, simply means that the man is in a state of legal subjection to his wife. The wife has but to scream and appeal to the nearest policeman, and prison, separation, custody of children, and maintenance, are decreed as matters of course. A woman can habitually repudiate her duties, neglect her children, pawn her husband’s and children’s clothes, waylay her husband at his work, and disgrace him before his friends, procure his dismissal, assault him, and there is no remedy open to the working man. To tell him that he can appeal to the Divorce Court at a cost of forty pounds, is a piece of savage and scornful irony. He might as well be told that he can, if he has the money, promote a private Act of Parliament, at the cost of some thousand pounds. If goaded by intolerable misery, he so far forgets himself as to strike his torturer, he is sent to gaol, with his condemnation headed A cowardly brute. The special facilities for women to obtain divorce, separation confiscation of the husband’s property, do not end with the provision of a cheap and expeditious Court for women alone. If the woman elects to go to the Divorce Division of the High Court, the path is made similarly smooth for her. Her unfortunate hus- band, who may afterwards be held to be quite guiltless of the lying charges brought against him, is ordered to find money for her solicitors, and has to pay in advance!! He must also pay her alimony pendente lite [during the litigation]. Then when he is dragged to Court by a heartless and vindictive woman, he finds the scales still more heavily weighted against him. The rules might be formulated somewhat in this way:–

1. Every woman’s statement complaining of her hus- band is assumed to he true until he conclusively proves it to be false. The onus probandi [burden of proof] is on him and the difficulty he has to face is that of proving a negative.
2. The slightest harshness or even carelessness of speech or behaviour, no matter under what provocation (the records of years being searched to find one) is absolutely final proof of “cruelty” if committed by the husband. No amount of insolence and brutality–short of actual attempt to maim–is cruelty in a wife. Any- thing she does is a pardonable exhibition of feminine temper.
3. The husband and his witnesses are prosecuted for perjury on the slightest inaccuracy being discerned in their narration of facts. Deliberate perjury is passed over if committed by the wife, her paramour, or her witnesses.
4. No charge, no matter of what infamous crime, falsely made by a wife against a husband, is a ground for his refusing to take her back. If he should refuse the Court confiscates for her benefit as such of his property or earnings as they think fit. One result of these instructive rules of practice is to be found in the number of undefended divorce suits. It is a common saying of the legal profession that multitudes of husbands allow judgments to go against them by default, as they are quite conscious that no man not of absolutely angelic character–unless he be himself a lawyer–has any chances before a prejudiced pro- feminist judge and jury.


Here we come upon a marvellous specimen of judicial legislation, wherein Parliament has not been troubled. In case of a husband succeeding under the Act of 1895 he will have difficulty in future in getting a divorce from his wife by reason of adultery. He is entitled to damages from the co-respondent for the injury to him, done in breaking up his home, and exposing him to mental suffering and material loss. The damages are supposed to he paid to the husband on this basis–that they were in compensation for his loss. They are still assessed on this basis, but at the end of the nineteenth century we find the judges creating a legal fiction. Influenced by the wave of feminist sentimentality, the judges have actually seized on these damages as a fund for endowing the adulteress. The way this insidious device was introduced was as follows:–It not unfrequently happened that a husband assented of his own free will to the damages, which in law were his own property, being settled on the children of the marriage. Sometimes he included his late wife in that dedication of the fund. This was generous of him, as the woman had obviously forfeited her claims on him. Now, however, the judge, without consulting parliament, has deprived the injured husband of the merit of generosity. Without the husband’s consent, in fact, notwithstanding his opposition, the judge will hand over the damages, which in strict law are the husband’s, to such trustees as they think fit, and transform the fund into an endowment for the adulteress who has prudently selected a rich man as co-respondent. To understand the iniquity of this proceeding, let us take the opposite case. In some American States the wife’s trade union has procured the passing of a law that enables a wife to sue for damages for her husband’s seduction. What would be thought of the American Courts if they seized on the damages so secured and 15 settled them as a provision on the delinquent husband? or (to add a grotesque completeness to the parallel) settle them on the husband and his children by his fair seducer? Yet a similar piece of monstrous injustice–to men, though not to women–is the law of England to-day. Our pro-feminist judges are presumably indifferent to the fact that the subsidy of the adulteress in this way can have but one result, namely, to “encourager les autres [to encourage the others].”


It has always in England been laid down as a fundamental law based on public policy, that the custody of children and their education is a duty incumbent on the father. It is said to be so fundamental that he is not permitted to waive his exercise of the right by pre-nuptial contract. (See the Agar v. Ellis Case.)
This rule of the Common Law of England is of course in harmony with the policy of all Europe and Christendom, as well as with the historic conditions of the European social organisation, if not with the primal instincts of the race. Nevertheless, fundamental and necessary as the rule may be, the pro-feminist magistrates and judges of England are bent apparently on ignoring it with a light heart. They have not merely retained the old rule that the custody of infants of tender years remains with the mother until the child attains the age of seven. But they go much further than that. As a matter of course, and without considering in the least the interests of the child, or of society at large, they hand over the custody and education of all the children to the litigant wife, whenever she establishes–an easy thing to do–a flimsy and often farcical case of technical “cruelty.” The victim husband has the privilege of maintaining the children as well as herself out of his property or earnings, and has the added consolation of knowing that they will brought up to detest him. Even in the extreme case where a deserting wife takes with her the children of the marriage, there is practically no redress for the husband if in narrow circumstances. The police courts will not interfere. The divorce court, as already stated, is expensive to the point of prohibition. In any case the husband has to face a tribunal already prejudiced in favour of the female, and the attendant scandal of a process will probably have no other result than to injure his children and their future prospects in life.


The wife in England enjoys either absolute immunity or liability to merely nominal punishment for all offences against her husband committed during marriage. Contrast with this the rule as regards offences by the husband towards the wife. Gaol and public obloquy are his portion. This matter will be referred to again in considering the criminal law privileges of women in general (married or unmarried) as regards trial, sentence, remission of punishment, and gaol-treatment. It may here he noted that feminine exemption, as specially regards Matrimonial Law, is established in one of the following ways:–Either by

1. The text of the law expressly, which discriminates between wife’s offences and husband’s, punishing the latter and leaving unpunished the wife. For instance, in cases of desertion; or by

2. The administrators of the law who have established a rule of practice discriminating in favour of the woman, although nominally the law is the same for both. For instance, in cases of cruelty, perjury, and bigamy; or by the fact that

3. Whenever a pecuniary fine is imposed, nominally on the wife, the husband is the vicarious sufferer. He has to pay. With this preface let us consider the law and practice as regards a wife’s offences against the husband, in the order of their frequency.

(a) Impunity for Insolence and Insult.

The most elaborate cruelty in the way of insolence and insult is unpunishable by the law when committed by the wife. The husband remains bound to support his torturer, who may publicly waylay and insult him, harass him at his work, procure his dismissal, libel him by postcards sent to his workshop, or to his club. If he a rich man, he can get some tardy redress in the way of palliation; but he remains liable to divorce and expropriation at his wife’s behest. The rod, the cucking school, [1] the indictment as a scold at the assizes were the methods adopted by the Law of England and sanctioned by the Canon Law, until the present century, to repress such outrages. Now the feminine noblesse can torture their slaves with impunity. If the husband retaliates, the magistrate’s order promptly consigns him to gaol and the prisoners’ lash.
[1]. Cucking stool: “An instrument of punishment no longer in use, consisting of a chair in which the offender was tied and exposed to public derision or ducked in water.” American Heritage Dictionary.

(b) Impunity for Neglect.

The wife may repudiate every one of her duties, may utterly neglect her household, her children, and her husband. No remedy either in the police court or the divorce court for the husband. If the husband neglect the wife in this connection– “neglect” is a very elastic word–consequences ensue of which the chief are-

(1) The prompt police court separation order, and confiscation of property and wages of husband (enforced by imprisonment).

(2) This so-called neglect of the husband enables the wife to commit adultery with impunity, yet still she has her claim to maintenance. (Act of 1895.) Neglect on the part of the wife is no legal offence at all. Neglect on the part of the husband has been construed to mean anything of which the wife likes to complain. For example, an actor who is obliged to remain late at the theatre comes home late. This is held to be “neglect,” with the usual penal consequences. What between the upper millstone of “cruelty” and the nether millstone of “neglect” the unfortunate husband can now be condemned alike, if he does something, or if he does nothing–anything the wife chooses to call so being construed as either “cruelty” or “neglect.”

(c) Impunity for Libel and Slander of Husband.

No lying charge, no matter how gross, by word or writing is punishable if committed by the wife against the husband. She is free to slander and libel him before servants and strangers, solicitors and pressmen; accuse him of every crime known to the Old Bailey [Central Criminal Court] calendar, and write postcards to his club or to his employer and [no] penal consequences ensue as long as she lives in his house. Her husband cannot leave her without incurring punishment. If the husband, not to say slanders, but speaks disrespectfully to his wife before servants or strangers, she is quite entitled to leave his house at once, and claim the usual separation and confiscation order, and deprive him of the custody of the children whom he is bound to support.

(d) Impunity for Waylaying and Procuring Dismissal.

A vindictive wife who courts publicity and scandal has the average respectable man–unless he be an angel or a lawyer–at her absolute mercy. If he be a man of the middle-classes, she can waylay him at his office and destroy his business connection. She can call at his club and secure his expulsion. If he be a working man she can interview his employer and secure his prompt dismissal. She can render him a laughing-stock to all his acquaintances, and at the same time achieve his financial ruin. The law and its administrators stand idly by. No remedy for the helpless male. The “poor woman” (they are always that) must have been ill- used; there is no such thing as savage vindictiveness and recklessness in the female.

(e) Impunity for Violence and Assault.

If a man under any provocation, no matter how galling –insolence or violence– strikes a woman, he is sent to hard labour, divorced, and his property confiscated, or his earnings hypothecated–and all this through the prompt instrumentality of the police-court. A woman may assault, stab, set fire to her husband, and he has no remedy, except to summon her to the police- court, where, if she be fined, he is compelled to pay the fine, and as likely as not is laughed at. If her crime be revoltingly atrocious, she is perhaps sent to prison–for one-twentieth part of the time awarded to a male offender for a like offence. On her being released, her husband, unless he be a rich man, is bound to take her back, and, rich or poor, support her. The prompt and inexpensive police-court divorce is not for him. A humane police magistrate actually had to stoop to make terms with a cruel and murderous criminal. A wife strikes a felon blow at her husband, renders him insensible, and he has to be removed to the hospital. His face is badly scarred, six stitches having to be put into the wounds. The magistrate, wishing to prevent murder, binds her over to come up for judgment, if called upon, on condition that she kindly consents to sign a separation deed, permitting her unfortunate husband slave to live apart from her. The slave of course has to support her all the same. ( Morning Advertiser, 2nd June, 1896. Thames Police Court.)

(f) Impunity for Adultery.

The latest charter of women’s privileges–the Act of 1895–enables a woman to commit adultery with Impunity–provided she can allege her husband neglected her. As “neglect” usually means that she drove him to the public-house or to his club by over-bearing violence and insolence, the present law means that if a woman has a fancy for adultery, all she need do is to pick a quarrel with her husband about anything she likes, then she can indulge in desertion and adultery with impunity, and claim the usual divorce and confiscation from a sympathising tribunal. It is singular that the law on this very offence should be perpetually cited by women’s righters as her chief grievance, next to the absence of the Parliamentary franchise–and as the standing illustration of the “cruel inequality and injustice as between the woman and the man” of the English law of divorce. If a woman, we are told, commits adultery, a man can obtain absolute divorce, but if a woman sues she must prove cruelty as well. Now as to the earlier law, this was the rule, and something could be said to defend it. It is obvious that if a woman commits adultery she may introduce a bastard child to her husband’s family, and saddle him with a pecuniary burden and them with an onerous relationship which it is unjust should be borne by them [which would be unjust if borne by them]. If a husband has illicit relations, he does not bring home his bastard offspring. But since 1857 the secular court has practically abolished the discriminations. Let the wife prove illicit relations by the husband, and she has always had her divorce for the asking. The reason is simple. The Courts will hold, to oblige a wife, that anything is cruelty if committed by a husband. It is cruelty to come home late from his club; it is cruelty to spend an evening with friends without her company. It is cruelty to hold her hands if she tries to strike or to bite him. However, these refinements are no longer necessary to the pro-feminist tribunals of England. The last charter of feminine privilege (the Act of 1895) has set the balance of express law the other way. Now a wife can commit adultery with impunity–if induced by the “neglect” of her husband. No such excuse for the husband.

(g) Impunity for Desertion.

A woman can have her husband arrested and sent to gaol if he leaves her, even though her own violence and cruelty led to his flight. The husband gets no assistance from the law if his wife deserts him. The method in which this privilege has been worked out was simple enough. It consisted in abolishing all the husband’s control over the wife’s actions and property, and, on the other hand, retaining all the wife’s power of legal compulsion on the husband, with added powers. These changes have practically come in during the period since 1857, when a secular court for divorce was established. Under the earlier law, prior to, and long after the Reformation, ecclesiastical censure restrained the deserting wife. But the secular common law also lent its aid to the husband. He could prevent her by force from leaving his house, and could bring her back if she had escaped. More, he had an action for “harbouring” against any of her relations or strangers who assisted her in straying away–as late as George III. a husband’s action for damages on this ground was successful.

An exception to the general rule, and even this was of doubtful validity, was introduced under Henry VIII. A wife could be assisted to leave her husband’s house if she were journeying to the Bishop’s Court to seek a separation. But the latest feminist rulings of the judges have quite swept away such fine distinctions as those of 1857. (1) By their fiction of “cruelty”–anything a husband does being “cruelty”–they have enabled any woman who likes to leave on a pretended excuse. (2) By procuring the passing of an Act (Lord Chancellor Cairns’ Act, 1884) the Courts got rid of their theoretical duty of ordering a wife to be imprisoned for refusing to obey an order of restitution of conjugal rights. Nothing in the way of compulsion by restraint of person or property is to be applied to the wife. But by a cynical stroke this Act provides that if a husband refuses to obey, his property is to be confiscated. And, more outrageous than all, the wife’s power to procure the arrest and imprisonment of the husband by the magistrate’s Court is left untouched. A case in which the wife of a clergyman caused her husband to be arrested on board a ship going to America, and sentenced to hard labour by alleging his desertion, deserves special notice. True that the clergy- man, having means, could appeal to a higher Court and have the iniquitous sentence quashed. But the working man would have had to serve his allotted term in the prison cell. And no one has ever suggested that this wife should be punished. (See the case of the Rev. Peter MacDonald Neilson, June, 1894.) The notorious Jackson case furnished another picture. Here a woman is upheld by the Court of Appeal in deserting her husband and condemning him to life-long celibacy. He has absolutely no remedy against her. If she commits any civil injury against any one, he can be sued. If he should live with any other woman, Mrs. Jackson can get a portion of the property confiscated and settled on herself. She is not obliged to ask for a divorce, she can still keep him bound by limiting her demand to a judicial separation. The criticisms which some lawyers have made on this decision are wide of the mark. It was quite in harmony with the later current of authority, though in violent conflict with the settled Common Law of last century. Tie the man and let the woman free, is the prevalent judicial theory of to-day. Though the judges could obtain the passing of Lord Chancellor Cairns’ Act, 1884, freeing the wife from imprisonment for desertion, there has been no suggestion of promoting an Act to enable a man in Mr. Jackson’s position to obtain a divorce. So enamoured have they become with the new doctrine of feminine predominance in the relation of marriage, that the judges of the House of Lords have actually extended to Scotland their theory of tying the man and letting the woman free. For over three centuries the law of Scotland has provided that desertion for four years on the part of either spouse is ground for absolute divorce, with right of second marriage. For all that long period the Act has been found most salutary in effect. Now the judges in the House of Lords, in the year 1894, have practically repealed it. They have refused to grant a Scotch litigant divorce, although his wife has deserted him for over four years, and at the same time abducted his child. They allege, as the ground for this astonishing “new readings” of the law, that the husband did not really want her to return. As this can be alleged in every case in which a husband does not slavishly implore a shrew to come back, the result is that when a vindictive woman wants to prevent the man remarrying, she can successfully resist his claim for divorce. This salutary Act of Scots Parliament has been offered up as a whole burnt offering on the altar of the dominant female.

(h) Impunity to Commit Bigamy.

We now come to a flagrant instance where the law professes to apply impartially to masculine and feminine offenders. But the feminist administrators of the law have created an undisputed feminine privilege. Long terms of penal servitude await the male bigamist. The female is privileged to indulge in this form of deceit and theft with impunity. For, be it noted, it is almost invariably a desire to obtain economic advantage that impels the woman to this particular crime, the essence of which, of course, is the deceit practised on the innocent party. In the cases where there is no economic motive and where no deceit is practised on the second spouse (to use the convenient terms of the Scottish Law) no punishment is ever inflicted on the woman, and perhaps none is specially required. The possession of the “marriage lines” is sought for as a social advantage, though based on the deception of a public official. But in striking contrast to this practice, the man who contracts a second, i.e., illegal, alliance, even though he goes through the marriage ceremony solely to please his second partner, and although she is in no way deceived as to his status, may, even though in addition he has been deserted by his first wife, he arrested and sent to prison at the bidding of the woman who deserts him. This, however, is not the full extent of the privilege. Men who, from passion, or for whatever motive, deceive the second partner, are severely punished. That is to say, a woman already deserting her husband, may entangle a man into an alliance with her which he believes to be honourable and legal: may make him the father of her children, and hamper him with the life-long obligation to support these unhappy offspring: may thus brand her own children with the stamp of illegitimacy, may squander his earnings for years, may finish the tale of her favours by involving him in a suit in the divorce court as a co-respondent, and in a prosecution in the criminal courts as an unwilling witness against his children’s mother, and may do all this with absolute freedom from legal penalty. Let a man attempt to improve his financial position, nay, let him, even at a pecuniary loss to himself, exercise the least similar deceit on any woman, and the Criminal Courts descend on him with swift retribution. The following article in a leading London daily newspaper is instructive:– The sentence of seven years penal servitude passed by the Common Sergeant yesterday upon Charles Baker, who has for many years successfully practised bigamy as a profession, is not one day too long. Mr. Baker is evidently a person of irresistible fascination to ladies, and but for the rare courage of one of his victims, who had him tracked through both hemispheres, he might in time have bigamously married the residue of our unmarried women possessing suitable dowers. Quite another sort of bigamist was the cause of an application to Mr. Lane at the South Western Police Court. This was a young woman, who having married yesterday’s applicant, while her first husband was still living, was strangely purged of her offence by Mr. Justice Hawkins after a day’s imprisonment, on condition that she returned–not to her legitimate spouse, but to the young man who irregularly succeeded him. This she did, but not for long, as the same young man had to complain yesterday, that she had, in turn, deserted him, for an old gentleman she used to go after before. The applicant, like a sensible young man, seemed able to support this with philosophy, but what did raise his ire was her threat to prosecute him if he did not maintain her, against which he sought–and naturally obtained– protection. The fickle young woman is evidently still unconversant with the rules of the game. Perhaps when she has tried as many husbands as Mr. Baker has married wives, she will know better. Really it is getting time to mete out equal treatment to masculine and feminine offenders.”– Daily Chronicle , May 21, 1896.

(i) Impunity for False Charges on Oath.

No crime is too abominable to be imputed by a wife, with absolute impunity, against a husband. More precise details need not be given, as recent instances will occur to the public mind of notorious and infamous ill-usage of a husband in this way by a heartless and vindictive woman. But the Public Prosecutor is silent when the false accusation is brought by one of the privileged sex. Prosecutions of women for perjury in a divorce suit are unknown. And, be it observed, this privilege extends to all female friends or hirelings of the wife. These persons are allowed to accuse, with elaborately-prepared details of corroboration, the husband of the woman litigant of committing adultery with themselves. They are never punished. An obliging maiden sister–to help her married sister to procure divorce and confiscation of property against a troublesome husband–swears that the husband committed adultery with herself, the wife’s sister! The judge and jury find this story a concocted lie. The infamous perjurer is not punished–is not even prosecuted. Obliging maid servants every day come forward to allege their own or some other woman’s “immoral relations” with the victim husband. No one ever dreams of prosecuting them. It would be waste of time and money–as no jury would convict.

(k) Impunity for Perjured Denials of Guilt.

Women, it is notorious, every day perjure themselves in divorce suits, by denying that they committed adultery when their guilt is manifest. They are never prosecuted. The administrators of the law show by their practice –though not in articulate words– that they hold such perjury a venial fault, if not, indeed, a justifiable means of self-defence in the case of holy, inviolate woman. This privilege, like the analogous one of bringing lying charges against a husband, extends to the wife’s friends and hirelings. Let a husband untruly deny his illicit connection with a woman if his wife is the accuser. The Public Prosecutor intervenes, as a case decided in June, 1896, shows clearly enough, when the male went to penal servitude. Yet, be it observed, it is only the man’s denying with the object of protecting himself against his wife that is punished. If the man he not a husband, but a co- respondent: if he deny the truth with the laudable object of protecting a wife (who happens to be an adulteress–but that does not strip her of her privilege) then his perjury is pardonable and chivalrous. The co-respondent is safe under the shadow of the wife. In fact he must lie. And this brings us to the next head of privilege.

(l) Impunity for Treacherous Confession of Guilt.

Here we have a most striking rule–No woman is supposed to be a cowardly traitor if she turns “wife’s evidence” against a man, and truly alleges that he had illicit relations with herself. She is assisting justice, promoting morality, showing true repentance by open confession, and aiding in the women’s trade union object of keeping down man, the slave! Her treachery to her accomplice is condoned.

But a man who would dare to turn “husband’s evidence” against a wife, cannot be found within the four seas. The reason stares one in the face. Such a witness would not he welcomed as a servant of justice, and a repentant sinner. No! he would be esteemed by judge, jury, press and public to be a loathsome reptile, unfit for human society. A howl of execration would drive him from the land. Such a depth of morbid sentiment has been reached that even if a man charged with immoral relations with a wife, refuses or omits –presumably through religious or conscientious motives– to come forward and perjure himself on her behalf, an indignant press comments on his conduct, and tells him he has not acted as a gentleman.

(m) Impunity to Procure Adultery.

A wife seeking divorce and confiscation of her husband’s property can exercise all her privileges of violence, insolence, and, under her recent charter, of adultery, without inconvenience, but she can in addition make him guilty as well as herself, with the trivial difference that he will be punished. A wife can get female detectives to send female seducers in her husband’s path, and can then produce her hirelings in the box with conclusive proofs of the husband’s and their own guilt. If the attempt be made on the husband’s side there is swift retribution. In the first place as the adultery was committed with his own connivance she is quite absolved from legal responsibility. But more follows. At this moment, such witnesses on a husband’s side can be sent to prison for successful conspiracy to procure the adultery of a wire. The wife herself wins her suit.


Exactly as in the case of bigamy, the law on murder and homicide are nominally the same for men as for women. But if a wife by poisoning or violence, kills her husband, the administrators of the law show in practice what can be done by twisting a text. The matter will again be referred to under the Criminal Law, but provisionally the rules may be reduced to form somewhat as follows:– (1) The least excuse is sufficient to reduce the crime from murder to manslaughter. (2) All the wife’s statements against her husband are assumed to be true until they are proved to be false. (3) The proof of the actual deed of crime must be much more conclusive than in the case of a man. (4) If the verdict be [by] a mere chance one of murder, a sympathetic judge announces he will forward to the proper quarter the sympathetic jury’s recommendation to mercy. This recommendation is acted on by the Home Secretary as a matter of course in the case of a woman. (5) If the verdict is, as it usually is, one of manslaughter, a shamefully inadequate or possibly a merely nominal sentence is imposed.

(a) Poisoning.

This peculiarly treacherous crime is a legitimate mode of self-defence if practised by a wife on her husband.

(b) Violence.

A wife is still “weak woman” when armed with a poker, a metal pot, a vitriol bottle, a petroleum can, or a revolver. If these lethal substances killed her husband it must have been by accident. In any case he had taken her “for better or worse,” and had to put up with the consequences. Why did he cross her temper? Besides, even if she were ill-tempered, why did he not make a better selection when marrying? The elimination of thoughtless males is rather useful on the whole to the progress of the race. The decisions to which this line of argument, conscious or sub-conscious, leads judges and juries, shamefully neglectful of their public trust, may be seen from the appended cases, selected haphazard from a newspaper file.

(c) Poisoning a Husband.

Mrs. Maybrick was tried at Liverpool Assizes for poisoning her husband. She read a written statement by herself (Mr. Justice Stephens ordered that she be not permitted to communicate with her lawyers before writing it) to the effect that she administered the poison to her husband at his own request. The judge and jury accepted her statement that she administered the poison, but disbelieved her statement that it was at his own request, and, wonderful to relate, she was convicted of murder, but the Home Secretary commuted her sentence; and after undergoing a few years’ imprisonment she is now at large.

(d) Setting a Husband on Fire.

Mary O’Reardon, August 1st, 1894, poured oil over her husband, and deliberately set him on fire with a lighted paper. Sentenced at the Central Criminal Court to six years’ penal servitude. The offence was plainly wilful murder. The man had shortly before attempted to commit suicide–being driven to the attempt by her ill-usage.

(e) Setting a Husband on Fire.

Catherine Chilton (Durham Assizes, Nov. 24th, 1894) threw a lighted lamp at her husband. Sentenced to twelve months’ hard labour for manslaughter. The judge described it as a wanton and wicked act, and said it was a mercy for the prisoner that the jury had reduced the original charge to one of manslaughter.

(f) Stabbing a Husband.

Annie Hibberd, August, 1894, stabbed her husband twice, remarking, “Revenge is sweet. Found guilty of manslaughter at the Central Criminal Court, and sentenced to six years’ penal servitude.

(g) Driving a Waggon over a Husband.

Jane Payne, August 18th, 1894, thrust her husband off a waggon, and then deliberately backed the horses, driving the wheels over him twice. Both legs fractured. He died a few hours afterwards. Found guilty of man- slaughter.

(h) Setting a Husband and Child on Fire.

Jane Ann Trelawney Baker ([age] 32) pleaded guilty to manslaughter of her husband and child by throwing a lighted lamp at the former. She was sentenced to three days’ imprisonment, which meant her immediate release, and on leaving the dock remarked, amid the sympathy of the Court, that she was a childless widow, alone in the world ! ! !–Central Criminal Court, December 14th, 1893.

(i) Killing a Husband by Throwing a Knife at Him.

At the Central Criminal Court, October 24th, 1894, a married woman surrendered to answer an indictment charging her with the manslaughter of her husband. The defence was that the prisoner did not fling the knife with the intention of killing her husband. She threw the knife in a moment of great mental irritation, and it unfortunately struck the deceased. The jury could not agree to a verdict and were discharged. The case was put back until the following week for counsel in the meantime to consider if it were necessary to proceed further with the case. Mr. Justice Wright, in allowing the prisoner out on a recognizance, told her that she need not attend unless she received notice to do so. The judge, it should be added, who throughout the trial appeared favourable to the prisoner, disallowed various questions of the prosecution as to the previous relations with the husband, and cut short the medical evidence, saying that he did not like to see the time of the Court wasted with cases such as these, or words to that effect. Of course not! Mere husband killing, alter all–what is that? In the opposite case, that of killing a wife by the husband, how often have judges been careful to point out to the jury that any unlawful assault, if death happened to result from it, was, in the eyes of the law, wilful murder!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s