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Siete Partidas and the Rights of Texas Women

Las Siete Partidas and the Rights of Texas Women

Laws of the Republic of Texas. Houston: Office of the Telegraph, 1838-1845.  


This Texas statute, enacted in 1840, guaranteed rights for Texas women that would not be enjoyed by the majority of American women until New York passed the Married Women's Property Act of 1848, and other states began to use it as a template for their own legislation. Although momentum towards creating married women’s property acts began to emerge in many states in the mid-nineteenth century, those regions previously controlled by France and Spain were perhaps at the forefront, having been subject to the civil law tradition and in many cases retaining elements of the law codes in their statutes already.

In constructing its marital property laws, Texas borrowed from a variety of sources; the 1840 statutory text appropriated some elements of the English common law, but retained the Spanish civil law principles of community property. In fact the statute confirmed Texas practice based on the centuries old Siete Partidas, a foundational text in the early Texas legal system but a distressingly progressive one when compared with English Common Law. 


Texas was under Spanish rule until Mexican independence in 1821, when the territory became part of the Mexican state of Coahuila and Texas. Under new Mexican government, Anglo-American settlers began to migrate into the territory in significant numbers and civil and common law traditions were thrown together. Women in colonial Spanish Texas had enjoyed the same rights as Castilian women during the Reconquista; they could buy and sell both personal and real property, they could be held and hold other parties to contracts and they could grant or rescind powers of attorney, on documents such as this early Carta de Poder form in Tarlton's collection. The Anglo-American migrants brought with them a preference for English common law, under which the legal individuality of married women was not recognized.


Under the Republic of Texas the Common Law was adopted as criminal law in 1836; in 1840 when the Republic adopted Common Law as civil law as well, provision was made to maintain the Siete Partidas legal force with regard to contracts, land titles, and mineral rights granted under Spanish and Mexican rule. The necessity to enact statutory protections for Texas women in place of the repealed civil laws was also recognized, and the Texas Married Women's Property Act was passed. 


Therefore, women in the Republic of Texas, unlike their American counterparts, could own separate property (the personal effects, real estate, stocks and bonds possessed at the time of marriage) and could share equally with their husbands the wealth amassed during marriage. This land grant from Tarlton's collection dates from 1869, 24 years after Texas was annexed into the United States. The provisions adopted by the Republic of Texas protecting women's rights as property owners continued into statehood, making Texas a community property state. 

Letter Patent, signed by Texas governor E.M. Pease and the Texas Land Commissioner on February 27, 1869, granting two lots of land in Austin, Texas to Drucilla Bowles.