Saturday, December 1, 2012

14. Bride's Knot: Invisible Women

Bride's Knot by Becky Brown

Barbara Leigh Bodichon was born in 1827 in Sussex, England, the "natural" child of Anne Longden, a milliner, and Benjamin Leigh Smith, son of a Member of Parliament. Although each was unmarried and together they became the parents of five children, Anne and Benjamin never married. In a class-driven society Benjamin's marriage to a milliner would have been social disaster ("milliner" was a common synonym for prostitute) but then again illegitimacy was worse.

The lecherous Prince of Wales visits a Milliner's shop by Gilray.
Barbara's brothers (and of course Barbara herself) were barred from England's best universities by their parent's choice. It may be that Anne and Benjamin were radical enough to see marriage as a form of indentured servitude, a view their eldest daughter shared.

Barbara Leigh Bodichon 1827-1891

Barbara was concerned enough about the marriage laws everyone took for granted that she published a pamphlet arguing against them in 1854:

"A woman of twenty-one becomes an independent human creature, capable of holding and administering property to any amount....But if she unites herself to a man, the law immediately steps in, and she finds herself legislated for, and her condition of life suddenly and entirely changed. Whatever age she may be of, she is again considered as an infant,—she is again under 'reasonable restraint,'—she loses her separate existence, and is merged in that of her husband....

The Queen was one of the few women
 in the English-speaking world
who retained her legal rights after marriage.

"She is absorbed, and can hold nothing of herself, she has no legal right to any property; not even her clothes, books, and household goods are her own, and any money which she earns can be robbed from her legally by her husband...."

When she married, a woman became a femme couvert, a woman covered (and made invisible) by her husband's rights to all her property.

Wedding photo about 1860
Any property she owned is now his to spend, save or squander.

Despite the laws she decried in A Brief Summary ... of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women, Barbara Leigh herself married Dr. Eugene Bodichon. Through her efforts English law changed in 1870. The Married Women's Property Act permitted women to maintain rights to their inheritance, wages, investments, real estate and personal property through marriage, widowhood, divorce and death.

Bride's Knot by Georgann Eglinski
We can remember the fight for The Married Women's Property Act with Bride's Knot, a pattern published in the American agricultural magazine The Orange Judd Farmer in  1913.
 BlockBase #1850
Bride's Knot by Becky Brown

Cutting an 8" Finished Block

A Cut 4 squares 4". (4-1/16" if you use the 1/16th" default)

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

B Cut 9 squares 2-1/8"

Cutting a 12" Finished Block

A Cut 4 squares 5-5/8".

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 8 triangles.

B Cut 9 squares 2-7/8"

Bride's Knot
By Dustin Cecil

 Barbara Leigh Bodichon,
 Landscape with Iris, detail

Read more about painter and feminist Barbara Leigh Bodichon here:

Read her pamphlet "A Brief Summary ... of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women" by clicking here:


  1. Barbara's father might have been disinherited if he had married her mother. This wouldn't have helped anyone. Actually the existence of illegitimate children of kings and peers was a commonly encountered situation. They must have had a certain peculiar status of their own in English society although not a legal or respectable rank. There is so much drama and literature about "bastard" sons seeking revenge for their inferior status.

    This was a wonderful post. The generation of women born here after the 70's has no idea of what older women had to overcome.

  2. Thank you Barbara for this so interesting post. Each Saturday and also afterwards I think again of women's rights and your topic of the week.

  3. Another great post. Thanks for sharing all your historical knowledge, I'm really enjoying this blog. Not making the blocks, but I'm cheering on my friend who is making them with her daughter.

  4. Also delurking to say that I am really enjoying this series. It is very thought provoking and sad, in many ways, since so many women in the world still hold very little currency.

  5. Another great post Barbara. I look forward to Saturday to read it and then have the week to make the block. The blocks are looking amazing and I am really pleased I joined in making this quilt. Thanks for all your hard work and enthusiasm.

  6. Oh a link to Terri Windling's blog! It's always kind of odd when my different interests collide like that. I'm a feminist and a fan of the Pre-Raphaelites and I'd never heard of Barbara Leigh Bodichon. Thank you!

  7. moi aussi je vous remercie de tous ces articles trés intéressants- je les transcrits également sur mon post en français chaque semaine- merci à vous de toute cette culture que vous nous offrez ! les femmes néanmoins n'ont pas fini de se battre... égalité des salaires, les droits en cas de violence, tout en reconnaissant leurs travaux supplémentaires ! à savoir tout ce que nous faisons après notre travail ! : maison, enfants, cuisine, etc; !!! RIEN ne reconnait ce travail en plus !