International Women's Day Lecture 2017
The Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art 2017 International Women’s Day Lecture:
Caroline Norton: England's First Feminist Law-Maker
by historian and writer Dr Diane Atkinson author of The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton ((2012)
On the 17th of August 1839 the first piece of feminist legislation became law. The Infant Custody Act changed the legal status of mothers of good reputation forever. For the first time, a wife who was legally separated or divorced from her husband, and who had not been found guilty of adultery, was entitled to custody of her children up to the age of seven and periodic access after that. The Act was the result of Caroline Norton’s struggle with an abusive husband, and the patriarchal values embedded into English law which insisted that a father was the only parent of a child, and mothers had no rights. Caroline Norton’s wretched marriage drew her out of the private sphere and into the sphere of the law; her pamphleteering also informed the 1857 Matrimonial Causes (Divorce) Act, and the Married Women’s Property Act of 1870. Caroline Norton, the model for Daniel Maclise’s fresco ‘Justice’ in the House of Lords, was an accidental feminist who changed women’s lives for the better.
Diane Atkinson is the author of two illustrated books: Funny Girls Cartooning for Equality and Suffragettes In Pictures. She has also written three biographies: Love and Dirt: The Marriage of Arthur Munby and Hannah Cullwick; Elsie and Mairi Go To War: Two Extraordinary Women on the Western Front and The Criminal Conversation of Mrs. Norton. Her new book on the Suffragettes will be published in 2018.
Tickets must be booked in advance to gain access. Access to Parliament is via a security check, please bring a photo ID (Driving licence/passport). For further information http://www.parliament.uk/visiting/access/
There are limited places at this event and places are available on a first come first served basis. If a waiting list is formed then this will be distributed on a first come, first served basis.
Tickets are non-transferable.
Picture credit: 'Spirit of Justice' by Daniel Maclise, 1849 Parliamentary Art Collection WOA 2967