taking time to reflect on women’s hard-fought battles during Women’s History Month. A battle close to my heart is the right for married women in Texas to control their own property, contracts, and wages without their husband’s permission. It was not until 1968 that Texas wives were allowed this basic freedom.
Interestingly enough, Texas frontierswomen had a number of rights when the area was under Spanish law, including property ownership. However, over time, English common law established a foothold. Coverture, a legal doctrine proclaiming that women, upon marriage, lost control of their property, income, and other assets to their husbands became the law of the Lone Star State.
In stepped an unlikely hero, Louise Hilma Ballerstedt Raggio (1919-2011) What a superwoman. I really don’t see how she did it.
After graduating from the University of Texas, she married an attorney and dropped out of the workforce as was expected for someone of that era. But, after World War II, her husband was accused of being Un-American, and Ms. Raggio, worried about the family finances, enrolled in law school at Southern Methodist University in 1947 despite having two young children to care for. By the time she graduated and passed the Texas bar in 1952, she was the mother of three (And the only female graduate in her class).
By 1956, she had founded a law firm with her husband, pouring countless hours into speaking to various women’s organizations about the legal status of women and establishing law clinics to assist them. Additionally, she became influential in the State Bar of Texas, serving as the chairperson of the Family Law Section. During this period, she wrote the legislation that removed the legal differences for married women in the state (Martial Property Act). Women in Texas had been waging war on these laws since 1913. With Raggio’s skill and relentless pressure, the bill finally passed in 1967.
Her most crowning achievement was coordinating the overhaul of the Texas Family Code (enacted in three sections between 1967 and 1974) to include the Martial Property Act and a paternity act requiring fathers of illegitimate children to support them, as well as updates to divorce and marriage laws, strengthened adoption procedures, practices for minors who committed crimes, and the care of children without a guardian. For this work, she is known as the Mother of Family Law in Texas.
Under her leadership and guidance, significant advancements were made in areas of legal assistance for those unable to pay, legal education of the public, and legal research and publications.
And do you know she did all this while still serving home-cooked meals to her family? And she baked? Wow! Ms. Raggio always styled her hair, wore sensible and stylish clothing, and was never seen in public without her signature red lipstick.
I owe so much to Ms. Raggio and others who came before me. I ran a successful consulting business for twenty years and am now embarking on a new real estate enterprise with my daughter. Without their assistance, she and I would have no agency.
But the work is not done. Women still earn 20% less than men in the U.S., and a woman’s right to control her own body is under attack.
Yes, we’ve made progress over the years. What I don’t understand is why, since the first women’s rights convention in 1845, it has taken so long for women to get as far as we have when the founding principals of this country are: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Declaration of Independence.