It is over forty years since the Sex Discrimination Act officially made women the equal of men, and it became illegal to discriminate against a woman on the basis of her sex.
But it has been a long hard road!
Before 1881 and the Married Women's Property Act, it was rare for women to have control over substantial assets. Usually dependent on her father until marriage, when she did get married, officially she owned nothing; everything belonged to her husband. Only if she was widowed did a woman have some control over sizeable assets. Ownership and control of assets has been the key to economic and even political influence and power.
We shall look at the position of women in the medieval and early modern era, examining the position of heiresses and the extent to which they kept control of their property even after they married. We shall look at the situation of the independent single woman, and the largest category of all, those widows who were left running estates and businesses after their husbands died, often during the minority of the eventual heir. We shall look at individual women and the light their particular careers shed on the situation but also at the areas of female employment and the independence this gave them. Finally we shall look at the way women's lives have changed in the last two hundred years