Sharon ThompsonAug 6, 2023
The Married Women's Association and Family Law
Hart Publishing 2022
This book tells the untold story of the Married Women's Association. Unlike more conventional histories of family law, which focus on legal actors, it highlights the little-known yet indispensable work of a dedicated group of life-long activists.
Formed in 1938, the Married Women's Association took reform of family property law as its chief focus. The name is deceptively innocuous, suggesting tea parties and charity fundraisers, but in fact the MWA was often involved in dramatic confrontations with politicians, civil servants, and Law Commissioners. The Association boasted powerful public figures, including MP Edith Summerskill, authors Vera Brittain and Dora Russell, and barrister Helena Normanton. They campaigned on matters that are still being debated in family law today.
Sharon Thompson's Quiet Revolutionaries: The Married Women's Association and Family Law (Hart Publishing, 2022) sheds new light upon legal reform then and now by challenging longstanding assumptions, showing that piecemeal legislation can be an effective stepping stone to comprehensive reform and highlighting how unsuccessful bills, though often now forgotten, can still be important triggers for change. Drawing upon interviews with members' friends and family, and thousands of archival documents, the book is compulsory reading for lawyers, legal historians, and anyone who wishes to explore histories of law reform from the ground up.
Jeannette Cockroft is an associate professor of history and political science at Schreiner University.