CONCEALED UNDER PETTICOATS: MARRIED WOMEN'S PROPERTY AND THE LAW OF TEXAS 1840-1913
LAZAROU, KATHLEEN ELIZABETH
Doctor of Philosophy
Central to this study is the argument that the development of the law of Texas governing married women's property rights from 1840 to 1913 reflected a national rather than an isolated and indigenous process. Texas' first marital property rights act in 1840 and subsequent legislation were components of a national movement of the first half of the nineteenth century by American states to clarify, codify, and reform the property rights of married women, the so-called Married Women's Property Acts. Like other states' acts, the 1840 Texas statute initiated a series of piecemeal changes in the property rights of married women which concluded with more substantive alterations in the twentieth century. Despite Texas' Spanish-Mexican heritage and its subsequent adoption of a version of the Spanish community property system, its marital property statutes resembled in substance the marital property acts of those states whose legal bases was the English common law. By protecting the property of married women from irresponsible and dissolute husbands, Texas' acts functioned in the same manner as those states' acts which derived solely from Anglo-American custom. In the most fundamental way, Texas' laws like other states' laws constituted a family support scheme or a social welfare policy for a society unaccustomed to collective solutions. Shared or diffuse socioeconomic needs produced common responses among the states despite legal cultural differences. Those needs prompted lawmakers to define the rights, remedies, and responsibilities of family members. Texas' comparatively conservative response was a variation of a national pattern and from that perspective was a miniaturization of a national experience.