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Louise Raggio

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 Wade 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 Bar insignia.

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.