Traditional roles and attitudes: The role an status of women in our society has changed markedly over the last 150 years. Previously, women had very few legal rights an most societies placed women in an inferior position compared to that of men. This was often justified as being the result of biological differences between the sexes. Women were thought to be more emotional and less decisive than men. Women were also held to be less intelligent and less creative by nature. This idea, that women are naturally inferior, was maintained by various cultures which taught girls to behave according to negative stereotypes of femininity.
Economic rights: Women's economic rights depended greatly on whether they were married or unmarried, and their social status. If a woman was married, her position was subservient to that of her husband. The husband provided the income and shelter for his wife and family. Upon marriage a woman could not retain control over any property she had prior to the marriage. Indeed the common law saw man and his wife as one entity, unito caro. The wife's livelihood, property and indeed legal existence merged into that of her husbands. A women could not enter into a contract without her husband's signed authority. Marriage was therefore socially and economically important to a woman.
Unmarried women of high social status could not earn an income as working for a living was only available to women of the lower classes. Unmarried women therefore relied on the support of relatives and were seen as recipients of charity rather than fulfilling any useful purpose.
In New South Wales, the right to enter into contracts was granted by the Married Women's Property Act 1893 and the right to sue and be sued was granted under the Married Person's Act 1901. This gave married women considerable rights in relation to property and separate income. Before these Acts, upon marriage the property that a woman owned would transfer in ownership to her husband and he had control over it.