Written by Nancy Baker Jones
Read by Khotan Shahbazi-Harmon
For 130 years, Texas law treated married women like children, giving husbands control over wives’ property, contracts, and wages. As attorney Louise Raggio said, “the husband and wife were one, and he was the one.” Raggio changed all that.
Born in Austin in 1919, Louise Ballerstadt married attorney Grier Raggio in 1941, became the only female in her 1952 law class at Southern Methodist University, then discovered her gender made her virtually unemployable. In 1954, Judge Sarah T. Hughes helped her become the first female assistant district attorney in Dallas County, working for the legendary Henry Wade.
Assigned to prosecute domestic cases and juvenile crime--in a system lacking family law courts--Raggio quickly realized that she was working in the “lowest possible level in the legal system.” Even she was legally required to get her husband’s signature before filing some documents.
Women’s groups had unsuccessfully sought to reform these “coverture” statutes since 1913, and by the 1960s many supported the passage of a state Equal Rights Amendment. Raggio, however, believed that revised statutes had to be in place first. She created a legal task force that spent two years writing, then lobbying for, the Marital Property Act to assure married women’s access to such things as banking, real estate, contracts, insurance, and divorce. It became law in 1967.
Louise Raggio’s work gave married women equal legal rights for the first time in Texas history. She died in 2011.
Enstam, Elizabeth York, "WOMEN AND THE LAW," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/jsw02).
“Just Doing What Had to be Done,” Dallas Family Law video, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mTW_tXQEvuE.
Raggio, Louise, with Vivian Anderson Castleberry, Texas Tornado: The Life of a Crusader for Women’s Rights and Family Justice. New York: Citadel Press, 2003.
Audio Source Information
Our project, "Texas Women's History Moments," received the 2012 National Council on Public History Outstanding Public History Award and the American Association for State and Local History Leadership in History Award. The audio clips were broadcast on KUT radio from 2011-2016 during Women’s History Month.