The Forgotten Investors: Women Investors in England and Wales 1870 to 1935

Rutterford, Janette (2021). The Forgotten Investors: Women Investors in England and Wales 1870 to 1935. Quaderni storici, 56(1) pp. 13–35.



This paper explores the reasons for relatively large numbers of women in England and Wales investing in government and corporate securities by the second half of the 19 th century. The background context is that, by the Edwardian era; the growth in population in England and Wales; higher real incomes; and smaller families had increased demand from would-be investors. Also, the Companies Acts of the 1850s and 1860s had made limited liability more accessible, increasing the supply of securities with a range of different risk levels and removing the risk of personal liability for individual investors. However, there were other factors that made women significant investors, including how the legal system dealt with single women and married women compared with men. Single women – spinsters and widows – had the same legal rights as men throughout the period, able to have bank accounts, write cheques, buy securities in their own names, and even attend, speak and vote at company annual general meetings. Married women acquired the same rights as single women after the Married Women’s Property Acts of 1870 and 1882, before that only able to access investments indirectly as beneficiaries of trusts. Using historical records, we find that the number of women investors increased right up to the 1930s. Women preferred to buy low risk securities in companies they were familiar with and in some cases outnumbered men in company share registers.

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