Gender and the Law Prof Blog

Editor: Tracy A. Thomas
University of Akron School of Law

Friday, September 9, 2016

Scholars Debate Whether the ERA's Defeat was Really a Loss for Feminism

NYT, Was the ERA's Defeat Really a Loss for Feminism?

When Congress submitted the Equal Rights Amendment to the states in 1972, it seemed as if a monumental feminist victory was at hand. In five years all but three of the 38 states needed for ratification had approved the measure, which asserted that “Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Then conservative forces — led by Phyllis Schlafly, who died this week at the age of 92 — fought back, killing the E.R.A. and staggering the feminist movement.  


Since then, Supreme Court rulings have recognized principles of equality the amendment was intended to enforce. Did feminists win even though the E.R.A. was defeated?

  Joanna Grossman, Even the ERA Couldn't Bring About Real Equality

Mary Ann Case, Supreme Court has Delivered on Many of the ERA's Promises

Elizabeth Price Foley, The ERA's Defeat Prevented More Radical Changes

Serena Mayeri, Despite Feminist Gains, Effects of ERA's Defeat are Unknown

I recently wrote a bit on this topic in a book chapter forthcoming tracing the history of the ERA back to its origins in the late suffrage movement and then up to its modern resurrection.   See Tracy Thomas, After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds. forthcoming Oxford U. Press) (with TJ Boisseau)

A key question is whether legally women need the ERA, or whether its goals of general equality and specific rights have effectively been accomplished through other means. The virtually unanimous consensus of legal scholars is that the ERA’s goals have been effectively achieved through the Supreme Court’s equal protection jurisprudence. Courts now review gendered state action under intermediate scrutiny requiring that any laws treating women differently be justified by important governmental interests and that the laws be closely tailored to those interests. Other scholars, however, have emphasized the limitations of equal protection analysis for sex equality. For gender discrimination cases under equal protection, the Court utilizes a lower standard of intermediate scrutiny, rather than the strict scrutiny used in race and religions discrimination. This lower standard tolerates many of the continuing instances of less overt sex discrimination and laws that have discriminatory effect rather than textual prohibitions on gender. The equal protection approach is also limited because it requires proof of intent--defendants thinking bad thoughts about women--which [Catharine] MacKinnon notes “doesn’t address how discrimination mostly operates in the real world,” where “the vast majority of sex inequality is produced by structural and systemic and unconscious practices” inherited from centuries of gender hierarchy. Equal protection law’s formal classification structure, she explains, which rigidly treats only exactly similar things the same, is incapable of assessing the ways in which people “can be different from one another yet still be equals, entitled to be treated equally” or where affirmative diversity is needed to treat alike those whom are different


Some scholars also conclude that equality for women has essentially been achieved for women without the ERA because the specific substantive goals of the amendment were accomplished through a variety of federal legislation on specific issues as well as the parallel state constitutional amendments. Twenty-three states adopted mini-ERAs and such amendments have helped strengthen women’s ability to challenge discriminatory laws in those states. Courts often interpret the state ERAs to require strict scrutiny, and two states mandate an even higher absolute standard that presumes any discriminatory law to be unconstitutional. In addition, federal legislation has mandated equal employment and education in The Equal Pay Act of 1963, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978, and the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. Such piecemeal legislation, however, is subject to the political ebb and flow and can be rolled back, as the Violence Against Women Act was when the Supreme Court held in United States v. Morrison (2000) that Congress had no power to address civil remedies for domestic violence.


The renewed campaign for an ERA emphasizes the continued systemic harms to women of economic inequality, violence against women, and pregnancy discrimination and the limits of existing laws to address these concerns. Proponents of ERA emphasize the need for a permanent constitutional guarantee to control an overarching legal and social principle of women’s equality. The U.S., unlike the majority of other countries, has refused to incorporate such an express guarantee in its written constitution or adopt the international women’s bill of rights by ratifying the United Nations’ treaty.  The absence of an express guarantee permits traditional literalists like Justice Antonin Scalia to opine: “Certainly the Constitution does not require discrimination on the basis of sex. The only issue is whether it prohibits it. It doesn’t.” The ERA offers a corrective to this thinking and the equivocal state of women’s rights under the law. It offers a textual guarantee of sex equality, an inspiration for public policy, and a powerful symbolic support of women’s equality in all social and legal venues.


September 9, 2016 in Constitutional, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Anti-Feminism of Phyllis Schlafly

Arch anti-feminist Phyllis Schlafly died this week.  She has ironically, as Slate notes, become "doomed to represent the feminism she hated."

I recently wrote about Schlafly and her leadership of the political movement that stopped ERA.   After Suffrage Comes Equal Rights? ERA as the Next Logical Step, in 100 Years of the Nineteenth Amendment: An Appraisal of Women’s Political Activism (Lee Ann Banaszak & Holly McCammon eds.) (Oxford Univ. Press forthcoming) (with TJ Boisseau).

The face of women’s opposition to ERA was conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly and her STOP ERA (Stop Taking Our Privileges) organization. Schlafly, a mother to six children, offered herself to the anti-ERA movement as a voice for stay-at-home mothers in need of special privileges and protections under the law. The irony that she, much like all the most prominent reformers historically lining up on either side of the ERA amendment (such as Alice Paul, Florence Kelley, and Pauli Murray), held a law degree and enjoyed a flourishing decade-long career in the public eye, was utterly elided in her rhetoric.


Doggedly focused on women’s roles as mothers and home-makers, Schlafly trumpeted the cause of women’s difference from men—championing the special rights of women as citizens who, ideally, did not work outside the home.  She asserted that equality was a step back for women: “Why should we lower ourselves to ‘Equal Rights’ when we already have the status of ‘special privilege?’”  She and other ERA opponents reframed the issue as forcing women into dangerous combat, co-education dormitories, and unisex bathrooms.  Feminist advocates responded by clarifying that privacy rights protected concerns about personal living spaces in residences and bathrooms, but their counsel was unheard in the din of threat to traditional family and gender roles. Opponents equated ERA with homosexuality and gay marriage, as the amendment’s words “on account of sex,” “were joined with ‘sexual preference’ or homosexuality to evoke loathing, fear, and anger at the grotesque perversion of masculine responsibility represented by the women’s movement”  Schlafly hurled insults at the ERA supporters, urging her readers to view photographs of an ERA rally and “see for yourself the unkempt, the lesbians, the radicals, the socialists,” and other activists she labeled militant, arrogant, aggressive, hysterical, and bitter. When ERA supporters “gathered at the federally financed 1977 International Women’s Year Conference in Houston and endorsed homosexual rights and other controversial resolutions on national television, they helped to make the case for ERA opponents.” 


The shift in debate slowed and then stopped ratification of the ERA. In 1974, three states ratified the amendment, one state ratified in 1975 and in 1977, and then ended with only 35 of the 38 required.  At the same time, states began to rescind their prior ratifications, with five states voting to withdraw their prior approval. The legality of the rescissions was unclear, but these efforts had political reverberations in the unratified states. When the deadline arrived without the required three-fourths approval, Congress voted in 1978 to extend the ratification deadline three years to June 30, 1982.  Not a single additional state voted to ratify during this extension.



September 8, 2016 in Legal History, Pop Culture | Permalink | Comments (0)

New Autobiography of one of the First Woman Law Profs

Barbara Babcock's Memoir "Fish Raincoats" Recounts a Woman Lawyer's First, Quid Pro Books

The life and times of a trailblazing feminist in American law. The first female Stanford law professor was also first director of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service, one of the first women to be an Assistant Attorney General of the United States, and the biographer of California’s first woman lawyer, Clara Foltz. Survivor, pioneer, leader, and fervent defender of the powerless and colorful mobsters alike, Barbara Babcock led by example and by the written word — and recounts her part ofhistory in this candid and personal memoir.


"For woman lawyers, Barbara Babcock has led the way. How? By being smarter and tougher than the men; also, more empathetic and self-aware. Funny, shrewd, and telling, her memoir Fish Raincoats is a joy to read.”
— Evan Thomas, author of Being Nixon: A Man Divided


“Life will afford you no better sherpa on the extraordinary journey women have taken in the legal profession than Barbara Babcock. This book should be required reading for anyone who isn’t certain that they have a place at the lawyers table. Babcock’s amazing life has made a space for so many of us. Her story will do the same.”
— Dahlia Lithwick, Senior Editor, Slate

Here is also a book review I wrote of Babcock's key work on the biography of California's first lawyer Clara Foltz. Book Review: Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz (Stanford Press 2011).


September 8, 2016 in Books, Legal History, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Feminist Legal History Website and Visual History

This website Click! The Ongoing Feminist Revolution  launched last fall tells the backstory of modern feminist and legal history from about 1940 to present.  It includes terrific videos, photos, book resources, and detailed news that fill in the backstory of the women's political and legal movement.  Great stuff to show in class or use for research.

For example, here is the entry and links for the 1963 Equal Pay Act

This amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act prohibits pay discrimination on the basis of sex when workers perform substantially equal work and has been credited as one factor in the rise of women’s wages overall. The passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 demonstrates that work in this area is not complete.

Text of the Equal Pay Act.

Photos, John F. Kennedy Library

JFK Signs the Equal Pay Act.



August 25, 2016 in Equal Employment, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 12, 2016

Book Review: Women in Early America

Zoe Detsi, Review, European J. American Studies, Thomas A. Foster, ed. Women in Early America (NYU Press 2015)

Women in Early America is an intriguing collection of essays offering richly diverse readings of women’s lives and experiences in 17th- and 18th- century America. This volume is a significant contribution to the scholarship concerning the role of women in history and their participation in historical moments of political change and cultural negotiation. From Gerda Lerner’s seminal work on The Woman in American History (1971) to Linda Kerber’s enlightening book titled Women’s America: Refocusing the Past (6th ed., 2004), to Mary Beth Norton’s meticulous transatlantic study Separated by their Sex: Women in Public and Private in the Colonial Atlantic World (2011), scholarly efforts have been made to deepen our understanding of women’s history by initiating a shift of focus from their domestic role and dependent status to their active involvement in political, military, and economic affairs, as well as cultural production.


The scope of the volume’s methodological approach to the history of early women in America is very broad. The essays cover an impressive range of women’s experiences from the colonial period to the American revolutionary war offering a number of perspectives that embrace cultural history, gender theory, race studies, while resenting a multitude of women’s voices from different social, cultural, political, ethnic backgrounds, and geographical areas. All eleven essays provide scholars and researchers with a wealth of archival material – diaries, letters, narratives, documents – and with fresh insights into examining women in history as active agents in their own right challenging social conventions and political decisions. Either as aristocratic women in New Mexico or indentured servants in Virginia and Maryland, as slave owners in Jamaica or runaway slaves, as interpreters in Puritan Massachusetts or traders in  French America and Detroit, as Loyalist women during the revolution or proponents of female education in the new nation, early women in America were deeply involved in (inter)cultural practices and greatly affected by economic policies and social changes.

The Table of Contents is here.

August 12, 2016 in Books, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 11, 2016

Books: Women as Aggressors of Marital Violence in Antebellum American

Robin Sager, Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America (LSU Press 2016)

In Marital Cruelty in Antebellum America, Robin C. Sager probes the struggles of aggrieved spouses shedding light on the nature of marriage and violence in the United States in the decades prior to the Civil War. Analyzing over 1,500 divorce records that reveal intimate details of marriages in conflict in Virginia, Texas, and Wisconsin from 1840–1860, Sager offers a rare glimpse into the private lives of ordinary Americans shaken by accusations of cruelty. * * *


Correcting historical mischaracterizations of women’s violence as trivial, rare, or defensive, Sager finds antebellum wives both capable and willing to commit a wide variety of cruelties within their marriages. Her research provides details about the reality of nineteenth-century conjugal unions, including the deep unhappiness buried within them.

h/t Legal History Blog


July 11, 2016 in Family, Legal History, Violence Against Women | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 23, 2016

The Feminist Philosophy of Mary Wollstonecraft as both Equality and Complementarity

Paul Kerry (BYU, History), Mary Wollstonecraft on Reason, Marriage, Family Life, and the Development of Virtue in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 30 BYU J. Public Law 1 (2015)

The aim of the argument here is to show how A Vindication of the Rights of Woman presents a view of the equal dignity and intellectual capacity of the sexes embedded in the proposition that males and females are beholden to the same standard of virtue and chastity. Wollstonecraft further argues that both women and men have the same obligation to develop virtue by living lives that are ordered to duties by reason. Reason guides the passions and is exercised through the use of moral agency. Although her treatise calls for certain kinds of female independence, there are also spheres of interdependence and complementarity on which she insists in marriage, childrearing, and family life, but also in the development of virtue. Indeed, in the quest to develop virtue, men and women need each other: “The two sexes mutually corrupt and improve each other. This I believe to be an indisputable truth, extending it to every virtue.” Although Wollstonecraft accords religion a central teaching role as well, it is critical to the philosophical underpinnings of her treatise that human reason (God given, in her view) can derive the principles she puts forward and as such her arguments resonate with those made by natural law advocates. Without this set of arguments, Wollstonecraft's compelling philosophical insights are only partially understood if not largely missed, reduced as they are to calls for specific kinds of action rather than understood as reasoned contributions to political thought. A part of the work here must include restoring Wollstonecraft's argument through her own words by close reading.
This begs an important question: How could Wollstonecraft's many words on key elements of complementarity between man and woman in marriage, childrearing, family life, and the development of virtue and the role of reason go undetected or be neglected? Some of Wollstonecraft's ideas are explained away strategically by suggesting that she had to work within the accepted idioms of her time to revolutionize from within the prevalent discourse. On this view, Wollstonecraft is seen to pose her arguments “within a framework that was minimally acceptable to popular prejudices.” The implication is that she cloaked her real arguments inside of language and tropes that would allow other, less acceptable ideas of the time, to be granted passage into the public discourse. Yet, her ideas, those presented here, are strongly present, in some cases tirelessly omnipresent, in her treatise. She holds these up not as the husk in which to hide the real kernel of her meaning, but as essential to her argument--they are the root of her philosophical thinking. It is strangely myopic to classify her thinking on chastity, marriage, the family, and the complementarity of the sexes as mere window dressing because her views are not radical nor break decisively with traditional thinking.
Another answer to the question is that Wollstonecraft's insights are often placed onto a procrustean bed of feminist theory. Wollstonecraft's place in intellectual history has changed along with the political fortunes of the women's movement. Sometimes it appears as if A Vindication of the Rights of Woman is caught in an interpretative struggle over the meaning of feminism, rather than allowing the treatise to challenge and broaden what feminism means. It is tempting to confer on this text a status as a forerunner of modern feminism, but, depending on what a critic defines this to be, such a status can lead to distortions in understanding the text. The risk of “vile anachronism”is always present when studying any thinker from an ideological or theoretical perspective. Finely textured ideas of past thinkers run the risk of becoming flattened to fit an agenda. This apprehension is conveyed in the words of one critic: “One can see how the moral analysis and the social description in A Vindication could be appropriated for a more conservative social theory, which . . . would confine [women] to a desexualized domestic sphere as wives and mothers.” Certainly the multivalent meanings in A Vindication of the Rights of Woman might disturb a tidy reading that would grant it some kind of prototypical status or bind it to one end of a political spectrum. The high aim of scholarship, of course, is to attempt to understand Wollstonecraft's treatise without pressing it tendentiously into one's particular agenda, theoretical, political, or otherwise. Yet, warning about conservative appropriation can easily chill legitimate efforts to rehabilitate a key text in ways that might threaten the dominant feminist paradigms that have confined A Vindication of the Rights of Woman to a narrower reading than is borne out by the evidence. Rather than pre-emptively silencing or ignoring potentially “contradictory implications” it could be that the most interesting insights are to be found in exploring the tensions rather than in pulling or pushing the text in one ideological direction or another.

May 23, 2016 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

New $10 Bill Appropriately Features Elizabeth Cady Stanton, But She's About More than Suffrage

More from me blogging on why it is appropriate that Elizabeth Cady Stanton will appear on the new $10 bill.

Who is Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Why is She on the New $10 Bill

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, however, stands out from this respectable group [of women suffrage leaders on the new $10 bill] as the leading philosopher and advocate of the nineteenth-century women’s rights movement. As I discuss in my book Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law, Stanton was the “radical conscience” and founding mother of feminism. She was also a leading legal thinker advancing a full array of women’s rights. Stanton is memorialized today at the National Women’s Rights Museum located in Seneca Falls, New York. There, a waterfall pours over her prophetic words written in the Declaration of Sentiments.


In Stanton’s Declaration, she laid out seventeen demands for women’s rights in addition to the vote. These included the right to equal opportunity in education, employment, and religion. And they included rights within the family designed to assure gender equality, such as joint marital property, no-fault divorce, domestic violence protections, maternal child custody, and equal access to lawmaking through women jurists, lawyers, and juries. Stanton rejected the prevalent idea of the separate sphere of domesticity confining women to the “protection” and isolation of the home. Instead, she saw integrating women into the public sphere of political action and employment as important, while also elevating women as an equal power in the family with rights to property, autonomy, and parenting.



Stanton’s advocacy for sex equality is integrated into the legal history of family law. She advocated for change to the laws of marital property, equal marital partnerships, no-fault divorce, domestic violence remedies, women’s reproductive control, maternal custody, and de-gendered parenting. It turns out that almost all of Stanton’s radical ideas for the family seem innocuous today only because they have become the law. Turns out she was right, even if she was one hundred years too early.



May 17, 2016 in Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Beyond #TheNew10: A Better Process for Making Money

Genevieve Blake Tung (Rutgers) & Ruth Anne Robbins (Rutgers), Beyond #TheNew10: The Case for a Citizens Currency Advisory Committee


On April 20, 2016, ten months after promising to place a woman’s portrait on the $10 bill, Treasury Secretary Jacob J. Lew announced sweeping design changes in American currency. Citizens have been asking for these types of changes for at least 95 years, and we hope that Treasury will bring them to fruition rapidly. Until now, the portraiture and imagery featured on American currency has consistently asserted and reified the singular importance of one type of American: White, male politicians and statesmen, largely from the executive branch. This article explores the administrative framework that has enabled these representational shortcomings to persist as long as they have. From the beginning, the process for designing federal paper money has been characterized by arbitrary and arguably autocratic decision-making and resistance to open processes that consider the creativity and insights of the public. The way that Treasury approached its announcement was fraught with challenges for those citizens trying to have their voices heard in what they believed should be an authentic democratic process. It took a small, private organization, Women On 20s, to highlight this fact for the country - an organization that deserves pages in Treasury’s history books. After reviewing the history of the Treasury Department’s role in the design of currency - and coinage - and compare it with that of other agencies tasked with choosing the people and events worthy of commemoration. We argue that for an alternative process for future currency design that will permit meaningful citizen input.

This article also answers the question of when and how the decision was made to put Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill.

May 17, 2016 in Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Annette Gordon-Reed on Becoming a Lawyer and Historian

Last Lecture: Annette Gordon-Reed Traces Her Journey from Texas Childhood to Lawyer and Historian

[After working as a lawyer] she finally decided to enter academia. She felt, she said, that moment “was the only shot I had to be able to write, to be able to think about issues, to be able to use all of the things that I had been thinking about up to this moment—to be thinking about society, to be writing about society in a way that I thought would be useful.”


“Law is important. Obviously I believe that. But the kinds of human relations, the kinds of things we’re talking about in both of these books, transcend it,” Gordon-Reed said. “Sometimes you have to look beyond it, because the law is not put in place for everybody, is not made to work for everybody. It’s our hope that we can try to make it work for everybody, but the historian understands that there are moments when that just was not the case, and slavery was one of them."

May 12, 2016 in Books, Legal History, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 6, 2016

Republican Motherhood

  The law provides that Mother's Day is a ... flag day?

36 USC 117 - Mother's Day

(a)Designation.— The second Sunday in May is Mother’s Day.
The President is requested to issue a proclamation calling on United States Government officials to display the flag of the United States on all Government buildings, and on the people of the United States to display the flag at their homes or other suitable places, on Mother’s Day as a public expression of love and reverence for the mothers of the United States.
Ah, Republican Motherhood.  See Linda Kerber, Women of the Republic: Intellect and Ideology in Revolutionary America (UNC Press 1997)

May 6, 2016 in Legal History, Theory | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

New in Books: Gender Remade: Citizenship, Suffrage, and Public Power

From Legal History Blog, VanBurkleo's "Gender Remade", Abstract and TOC:

Sandra F. VanBurkleo, Associate Professor of History at Wayne State University, has published Gender Remade: Citizenship, Suffrage, and Public Power in the New Northwest, 1879–1912 (Cambridge UP).

Gender Remade explores a little-known experiment in gender equality in Washington Territory in the 1870s and 1880s. Building on path-breaking innovations in marital and civil equality, lawmakers extended a long list of political rights and obligations to both men and women, including the right to serve on juries and hold public office. As the territory moved toward statehood, however, jury duty and constitutional co-sovereignty proved to be particularly controversial; in the end, 'modernization' and national integration brought disastrous losses for women until 1910, when political rights were partially restored.

April 28, 2016 in Books, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

New in Books: Gender Remade

From Legal History Blog, VanBurkleo's "Gender Remade", Abstract and TOC:

Sandra F. VanBurkleo, Associate Professor of History at Wayne State University, has published Gender Remade: Citizenship, Suffrage, and Public Power in the New Northwest, 1879–1912 (Cambridge UP).

Gender Remade explores a little-known experiment in gender equality in Washington Territory in the 1870s and 1880s. Building on path-breaking innovations in marital and civil equality, lawmakers extended a long list of political rights and obligations to both men and women, including the right to serve on juries and hold public office. As the territory moved toward statehood, however, jury duty and constitutional co-sovereignty proved to be particularly controversial; in the end, 'modernization' and national integration brought disastrous losses for women until 1910, when political rights were partially restored.

April 28, 2016 in Books, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, April 25, 2016

Who is Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Why is she on the $10 Bill

The news focused on Harriet Tubman on the $20 bill, but more women will be featured on the $10 bill.  Five women suffrage leaders will appear on the back of the $5 bill.  These five are Susan B. Anthony, Lucretia Mott, Alice Paul, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth.


I have spent the last 10+ years researching and writing about Stanton.  My focus has been her contributions to the philosophical development of legal feminism and her work for legal reforms of gender equity in the private sphere of the family. 

Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Feminist Foundations of Family Law (NYU Press forthcoming Oct. 2016)

From the abstract for the book:

Elizabeth Cady Stanton was the principal feminist thinker, leader, and “radical conscience” of the nineteenth-century woman’s rights movement. Stanton initiated the women’s rights movement on July 19, 1848, in Seneca Falls, New York, where she issued her feminist manifesto, the “Declaration of Sentiments,” demanding women’s right to vote. This is generally all that history has remembered of Stanton. Her Declaration, however, demanded seventeen other rights for political, religious, social, and civil rights equality. These included the right to public office, marital property, divorce, education, employment, reproductive control, and religious autonomy. As Stanton explained, the institutions of government, church, family, and industrial work constituted “a fourfold bondage” of women, with “many cords tightly twisted together, strong for one purpose” of woman’s subordination. They were all intertwined, so that “to attempt to undo one is to loosen all.” As Stanton later explained, to break down this complexity required women to have “bravely untwisted all the strands of the fourfold cord that bound us and demanded equality in the whole round of the circle.” Holistic reform was required to break down the complex system of women’s oppression. 

The family was one centerpiece of Stanton’s feminist agenda. The family, governed by patriarchal laws and sentimental gender norms, created and perpetuated women’s inferiority. “If the present family life is necessarily based on man’s headship,” Stanton argued, “then we must build a new domestic altar, in which the mother shall have equal dignity, honor and power.” The private sphere of the family was not segregated from the public sphere, as both nineteenth-century suffrage reformers and twentieth-century feminists often argued, but instead was intertwined with the other institutional strands strangling equality. As a result, radical concrete change to the family institution was required in the forms of egalitarian partnerships, economic rights, free divorce, and maternal autonomy. Stanton’s commitment to women’s equality in marriage and the family was longstanding -- from Seneca Falls to her last writings. As Stanton said, she “remained as radical on the marriage question at the age of eighty-six as [she] had been a half a century earlier.” 

Stanton’s family reforms seem less shocking today because most of them have become law. Her proposals to reconstruct marriage and the family, detailed in this book, are now mainstream. Women have separate and joint marital property rights. Spouses inherit equal shares of estates when one partner dies without a will. Common law marriage is prohibited in most states, and civil marriage requires procedural safeguards. Divorce is available for irreconcilable differences or for misconduct equally applicable to both spouses. The law supports domestic violence protections, reproductive choice, and maternal custody.

Recovering Stanton’s feminist thinking on the family reveals the longevity and persistence of women’s demands for family equality. Contrary to popular wisdom, these feminist ideas were not invented in the 1970s, but instead reach back more than a century earlier as part of the original conceptualization of women’s rights. This longer perspective bolsters the truth and credibility of such feminist demands, dispelling their characterization as a modern anomaly and demanding legitimization and consideration in the law. As these issues of family, marriage, work/life balance, pregnancy, and parenting continue to challenge the law and confound feminism, Stanton’s work adds historical evidence of important principles that should be part of the legal equation. Her work shows that feminism and the family have not been historically in opposition, as we usually think. To the contrary, feminists have existed not apart from the family, but within it. 

See also:

Tracy A. Thomas, Misappropriating Women's History in the Law and Politics of Abortion, 36 Seattle L. Rev. 1 (2012) (on Stanton’s theory and advocacy of maternity)

Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and the Notion of a Legal Class of Gender, in Feminist Legal History (Tracy A. Thomas & Tracey Jean Boisseau, eds. 2011) (on foundations of constitutional sex equality inquiry)

Tracy A. Thomas, Elizabeth Cady Stanton on the Federal Marriage Amendment: A Letter to the President, 22 Constitutional Commentary 137 (2005) (on marriage equality and divorce)

Tracy A. Thomas, Introduction to Symposium, The Origins of Constitutional Gender Equality in the Nineteenth-Century Work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 7 ConLawNOW 1 (2016)

Tracy A. Thomas, The New Face of Women's Legal History, 41 Akron L. Rev. 695 (2008) (on Truth and Stanton)


April 25, 2016 in Books, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, March 31, 2016

New Issue Journal of Women's History

Journal of Women's History (Spring 2016)

      Editorial Note

Law, Marriage, and Women’s Agency: Studies from the Anglo-American and Iranian Worlds

pp. 7-12 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0009


Revisiting Ecclesiastical Adultery Cases in Eighteenth-Century England

pp. 13-37 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0000

“Woman and Her Needs”: Elizabeth Oakes Smith and the Divorce Question

pp. 38-59 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0002

Gender, Space, and Ritual: Women Barristers, the Inns of Court, and the Interwar Press

pp. 60-83 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0004

Business and Politics as Women’s Work: The Australian Colonies and the Mid-Nineteenth-Century Women’s Movement

pp. 84-106 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0006

Women Writing Women: Early Iranian Feminism and the Memoir of Tāj us-Saltanih

pp. 107-130 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0007

Rejecting Reproduction: The National Organization for Non-Parents and Childfree Activism in 1970s America

pp. 131-156 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0008

Book Reviews

The History of Marriage through the Lens of Case Studies

pp. 157-165 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0010

Enterprising Women

pp. 166-171 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0001

Lost Stories of Women’s Alliances and Networks

pp. 172-181 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0003


pp. 182-184 | DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2016.0005

March 31, 2016 in Legal History, Scholarship | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 28, 2016

The Origins of the Undue Burden Standard for Assessing Abortion Regulations

Meaghan Winter, Slate, Roe v. Wade Was Lost in 1992: How "Undue Burden" Has Eroded the Right to Choose

Remembering the day Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) was decided:

“We conclude that the central holding of Roe should be reaffirmed,” O’Connor read that June morning in 1992. Miller, by then the head of communications for the newly formed Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, was awed. Here was the first woman ever to sit on the Supreme Court asserting women’s right to abortion. “Oh my God, did we just win?” Miller remembers thinking. “How it that possible?”


But O’Connor kept reading. In “reaffirming” Roe, the court had also mostly upheld four of the five restrictions put in place by the Abortion Control Act, only invalidating the spousal notification law. Abortion remained legal, but the judges introduced two caveats. One was that the states had a compelling interest in protecting unborn life from the “outset of pregnancy”—a stark departure from Roe, which held that states had no such interest until after the first trimester. The other was that states would be able regulate abortion unless their laws “unduly burden” a woman’s right to choose abortion.


Miller, who is now the president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health, remembers her mind spinning. What was an “undue burden”? How could the Pennsylvania restrictions stand if Roe stood too?

And citing my work on the backstory of  Akron v. Akron Center for Reproductive Health (1983)  where Justice O'Connor first articulated the undue burden standard in dissent.  See Tracy A. Thomas, Back to the Future of Regulating Abortion in the First Term, 28 Wisc. J. Law,  Gender & Society 47 (2013).  

One attorney described the multipart ordinance as “a Christmas tree,” with everything possible hanging off it: a parental consent rule, a mandatory waiting period, and “informed consent” counseling. The attorneys designed it to be a national model. After Kapper proposed the law, experts from cities all over the U.S descended on Akron for four public hearings held over several weeks. Tracy Thomas, associate dean at University of Akron School of Law, later recounted how hundreds of divided locals watched John Willke of National Right to Life, a hero of the anti-abortion movement, present a slideshow of fetal life. (It’s hard to imagine now, but disturbing audiences with images of fetuses was then a cutting-edge tactic.) Gynecologists slated to appear at the hearings were so angered by the anti-abortion advocacy that they walked out without testifying. Shouting erupted in the hallway outside the hearing room.


Viewers watching an anti-abortion representative from Akron on the Today show might have been impressed with what seemed to be the anti-abortion movement’s grassroots organizing skills. But its advocacy wasn’t as homegrown as it appeared.

O'Connor took the position, in part, offered by Prexident Reagan's solicitor general, Rex Lee, adopting the deferential balancing approach of "undue burden."  See LeeAmicusBriefAkron.  The "unduly burdensome" standard had appeared in prior Supreme Court abortion decisions by Justices Powell (Maher v. RoeBelliotti v. Baird II (1979)) and Blackmun (Belliotti v. Baird (1976), but O'Connor converted it into a litmus test, rather than a conclusion.  And she utilized the test in order to uphold much government regulation, rather than strike down legislation, as the Court had previously used it in three out of four cases except funding.  Powell explicitly rejected the undue burden test in Akron, writing the majority opinion invalidating the 17 provisions of the Akron law on informed consent, waiting periods, and hospital regulations, suggesting that he did not intend his previous unduly burdensome language to be used as the constitutional standard.   


March 28, 2016 in Abortion, Constitutional, Legal History, Reproductive Rights, SCOTUS | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 18, 2016

Books (Coming Soon): The Feminist Foundations of Family Law

The book jacket!  Publication is one step closer!  

For a preview of the first chapter, see Tracy A. Thomas, The "Radical Conscience" of Nineteenth-Century Feminism

See also Tracy A. Thomas, The Origins of Constitutional Gender Equality in the Nineteenth-Century Work of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 7 ConLawNOW (2016)



March 18, 2016 in Abortion, Books, Family, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 4, 2016

Feminist Legal History: Dorothy Kenyon, McCarthy's First Target

         Dorothy Kenyon, Senator Joseph McCarthy’s First Case


Phillipa Strum, Dorothy Kenyon, Senator Joseph McCarthy's First Case, History Weekly (2015)

Scholars have documented the confusion, but for the most part historians of McCarthyism have not examined the role of Senator Joseph McCarthy in reflecting and adding to the tensions. This article examines the way in which the senator’s attack on what he called his “case number one”—the lawyer-activist Dorothy Kenyon —both reflected and contributed to the ongoing struggle about the proper role of women in the 1950s. While historians have written volumes about McCarthy, they have largely ignored the assumptions implicit in the choice of a woman as his first target. Kenyon’s case becomes a lens through which to view an important moment in the construction of gender.

March 4, 2016 in Legal History, Women lawyers | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Why Isn't there a Men's History Month?

Because every month is men's history.

Why Isn't There a Men's History Month?

March is Women’s History Month, and some folks have asked: Why isn’t there a Men’s History Month? This is going to be a long month on this front since so many people will be sharing information about women’s history notables. There are 26 days left and I’m sharing this to save some of us time.

The 30-second answer is: Because men as a class are not symbolically annihilated in our media. Women’s History Month, like Black History Month, is a pragmatic, short-term response to persistent cultural marginalization and misrepresentation. It’s an antidote to systemic erasure. It’s an attempt to both create representation and explain why it’s important.

The 10-second answer is: We don’t have a Men’s History Month because we don’t need one.

Men Writing History, About Men, for Men

This state of affairs dismays many academic historians. Last year, at the American Historical Association’s annual meeting, a presenter in a session on “Buying and Selling History” included a slide listing the best-selling trade history books of 2014, as tallied by BookScan. The generous helping of politically conservative histories by Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly caused concern, but some historians noticed another troubling trend: The list was dominated by male authors. Of 23 titles, two were written by women


March 1, 2016 in Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

The Difference Women Jurors Made to Criminal Convictions

A Jury of Her Peers: The Impact of the First Female Jurors on Criminal Convictions

This paper uses an original data set of more than 3000 cases from 1918 to 1926 in the Central Criminal Courts of London to study the effect of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919. Implemented in 1921, this Act made females eligible to serve on English juries, providing a novel setting for studying the impact of female representation on jury verdicts. Results based on a pre-post research design imply that the inclusion of females had little effect on overall conviction rates but resulted in a large and significant increase in convictions for sex offenses and on the conviction rate differential between violent crime cases with female versus male victims. The inclusion of women also increased the likelihood of juries being discharged without reaching a verdict on all charges and the average time taken to reach a verdict. A complementary analysis of cases in which the jury was carried over from a previous trial also implies that the inclusion of female jurors on the seated jury sharply increased conviction rates for violent crimes against women versus men.

February 23, 2016 in Courts, Legal History | Permalink | Comments (0)