“None Could Deny
the Eloquence of This Lady”
Women, Law, and Government in California, 1850–1890
Donna C. Schuele
Although women played no direct role in California law and politics until 1870, both their interest in law reform and their later entry into the political arena can be traced in part to two sections of the constitution that went into effect at statehood in 1850, one excluding women from the franchise and the other purporting to grant wives liberal property rights. Around 1870, California women joined their eastern sisters in organizing for suffrage rights and began seeking as well a more equitable implementation of the constitutional guarantee to marital property rights. This chapter will explore the circumstances that led California women to become involved in law reform, and their persistent fight over the next twenty years for equal political, property, and occupational rights, waged of necessity within the masculine arenas of law and politics.
AND DEVELOPMENT OF STATE GOVERNMENT
While the inaugural constitution excluded women (and nonwhite men) from suffrage, it did grant married women certain property rights by providing that “All property, both real and personal, of the wife, owned or claimed by her before marriage and that acquired afterwards by gift, devise or descent, shall be her separate property, and laws shall be passed more clearly defining the rights of the wife, in relation as well to her separate property as that held in common with her husband. Laws shall also be passed providing for the registration of the wife's separate property. ” 1