Friday, October 16, 2009
McMahon Presents California Women: Using Federal Taxes to Put the 'Community' in Community Property Today to Ohio Legal History Seminar
Community property is thought to be a more equitable marital property regime than the common law because we assume that providing each spouse with an interest in fifty percent of the family’s income also provides a substantial amount of equity and equality between spouses. Historically, however, the regime as it operated in the United States was not especially favorable to wives. Although the concept implied a partnership between spouses, in practice wives were denied rights a partner would expect to enjoy. This paper examines how women lobbied to enlarge the protection California wives enjoyed under the state’s community property regime in the early twentieth century. Women adopted a strategy that does not conform to Progressive Era stereotypes. Women’s groups argued that couples would receive federal income tax reduction if the state’s property system gave more rights to wives. Women’s use of these anti-government arguments helped further their goals of equalizing spouses’ rights and obligations but came at a cost as the tacit political alliance of women and wealthy taxpayers unwound.