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The lasting legacy of Louise Raggio on women’s rights

On Behalf of | Feb 18, 2021 | Property Division

The women’s rights movement led to major changes across the country. In the state of Texas, Louise Raggio spearheaded some of the very first major wins in that field. She laid the groundwork for Texas family law, and that served as a model for many other states in the development or overhaul of their family court systems.

Coverture and its implications

Coverture is a concept rooted in English common law. Under this doctrine, a married woman is unable to own property, enter into contracts or retain control of her finances. As a result, single women comprised the vast majority of women’s rights activists.

Raggio was the sole female in her law school graduating class of 1952, and she found herself unable to find work due to her gender. Judge Sarah Hughes assisted her in obtaining a job as an assistant district attorney in Dallas County in 1954.

As a married female attorney in the era of coverture, Raggio found herself unable to even file certain legal documents without her husband’s signature. In addition to those challenges, Raggio worked to prosecute juvenile and domestic matters in a court system utterly devoid of family law as we think of it today.

The art of persuasion

Activists pushed for equal rights across the board and met with resistance at every turn. Louise Raggio championed her cause by recruiting others. Once she identified her path, Raggio set her sights on those she needed to persuade along the way, and she pursued them with relentlessness.

Her tenacity led to the passage of the Marital Property Act in 1967, and this law made landmark changes to a married woman’s rights as they pertained to:

  • Real estate
  • Insurance
  • Banking
  • Divorce
  • Contracts

Texas then passed the Equal Legal Rights Amendment in 1972, and Raggio assisted in the creation of the Texas family code in 1979. She also provided counsel to several other states as they revamped or created family codes of their own. A married mother of three, Louise Raggio accomplished a monumental number of tasks that fundamentally shifted the way the Texas courts treated married women and family law as a whole. Women throughout Texas and beyond owe her a profound debt of gratitude.

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