to Making the Case
LOUISE B. RAGGIO (1919–2011)
Frustrated because her husband had to sign bail bonds for her
clients, Louise B. Raggio decided to do something about it. She helped
draft the Texas Marital Property Act of 1967, which gave a woman the
right to own property, secure a bank loan, or start a business without
her husband’s consent.
Referring to a woman’s lack of rights under Texas law prior to
1967, Raggio once said, “It was idiots, convicts, minors, and
married women who didn’t have property rights.”
Raised on a farm near Austin, Raggio was the only child of parents who
had just an eighth-grade education but who recognized the need for
their daughter to be educated. Raggio attended the University of Texas,
earning her bachelor’s degree in 1939. In 1941, she married Grier
Raggio, an attorney who worked for the government. World War II
separated the couple. Grier Raggio, who served five months on the
ground on Iwo Jima, returned to his family apparently suffering from
post traumatic stress disorder.
Fearful that her husband eventually might be unable to work, Louise
Raggio enrolled in night classes at Southern Methodist University School
of Law. It would take her five years to get a law degree. When she
began law school, Raggio had two sons. Before she graduated in 1952,
she had three. After her third son was born, Raggio frequently borrowed
her oldest son’s bicycle and rode to the school with the baby
tucked into a carrier.
Raggio, the only woman in her 1952 law school graduation class, was
unable to find a job as an attorney. Law firms would not hire women as
lawyers in the 1950s, and Raggio ended up practicing at home, doing
wills for $15 each and whatever other work she could find. That
situation lasted for two years, until U.S. District Judge Sarah
T. Hughes persuaded Dallas County District Attorney Henry
to hire Raggio as an assistant district attorney. As a result of
Hughes’ persistence, Raggio became Dallas County’s first
female criminal prosecutor, but she earned only about half of what her
male counterparts earned.
“Wade said later he hired me to get her (Hughes) off his
back,” Raggio recalled in a 2003 interview.
While a prosecutor, Raggio tried the first case before an all-woman
jury in Texas. With 10 women and two men available for jury service in
a misdemeanor case, Raggio picked six of the women. But her career as a
prosecutor was short-lived.
Raggio is best known for her work in the area of family law and her
efforts to improve the rights of women. In 1956, she joined her husband
in forming Raggio & Raggio in Dallas. She became known as “The
Mother of Family Law in Texas” and the “Texas
Tornado.” The passage of the Texas Marital Property Act was just
one of her accomplishments on behalf of women. As chairwoman of the
State Bar of Texas Family Law Section, Raggio spearheaded a project
that resulted in the overhaul and consolidation of the state’s
family laws. The result of that effort was the Texas Family Code, which
was completed in 1979 after some 14 years of work, making the first
state to have a unified family code.
Raggio also made history at the State Bar when she won election as a
Bar director in 1979. She was the first woman ever elected as a
director to the State Bar’s board. However, Raggio’s
election may have been a little baffling to Bar officials. It was
customary to present new Bar directors with a gift. Raggio received the
same cuff links engraved with the State Bar’s seal as her male
counterparts received. She wore her cuff links on a gold chain around
her neck and kept them as her “badge of acceptance” even
though Bar officials subsequently presented her a gold pendant with the
In 1997, the SMU Louise B. Raggio Endowed Lecture Series in
Women’s Studies was created. The series brings women of
outstanding achievement to the SMU campus each year to meet with
students and to deliver a keynote address.
Raggio died in January 2011 at the age of 91.