Spanish Laws for Texas Women:
The Development of Marital Property Law to 1850
HISTORIANS AND HISTORICALLY MINDED LAWYERS HAVE EXAMINED THE MIN-
gling of Spanish and Anglo-American legal systems and identified
the concept of homestead exemption as one of its important legacies in
both United States and Texas law. Law professors Hans Baade and
Joseph W. McKnight have written several distinguished articles on the
Spanish legal system in the Borderlands and how Spanish laws affected
women in New Spain and early Texas. Donald E. Chipman included a
chapter on the legacies of Spanish rule in his book Spanish Texas, 51z9-
1821 in which he discussed the effect of the Spanish legal system on
later Texas laws. Less has been written on how Spanish laws came to be
adopted into the Texas legal system and how they spread from there to
parts of the United States.' The concept of community property, espe-
cially, has had a significant impact on the legal culture of the United
The unusual legal history of the Republic of Texas regarding the sta-
tus of married women evolved from its heritage of Spanish and Anglo-
American settlement. Between 1717 and 1821, Spain governed Texas as
part of New Spain. Under these laws, married women held a distinct
legal status with defined rights and responsibilities as well as legal pro-
tections for their "feminine weaknesses." After Mexico gained indepen-
dence in 1821, it ruled Texas as part of the state of Coahuila and Texas.
Mexico followed traditional Spanish law, which emphasized the im-
portance of women and the family to the strength of the community.
"Jean Stuntz is currently teaching history at Texas A&M University She received her Ph.D.
from the University of North Texas and thanks Donald E Chipman of UNT for his continuing
inspiration, assistance, and support. She also thanks Joseph W. McKnight of Southern Methodist
University School of Law for his invaluable advice.
'Joseph W. McKnight, "Law Without Lawyers on the Hispano-Mexican Frontier," West Texas
Hzstorscal Assoczation Yearbook, 66 (1990), 51-65, Joseph W. McKnight, "Law Books on the
Hispanic Frontier," Journal of the West, 27 (1988), 74-84; Hans W. Baade, "The Form of Marriage
m Spanish North America," Cornell Law Revzew, 61 (Nov., 1975), 1-89; Donald Chipman, Spanzsh
SOUTHWESTERN HISTORICAL QUARTERLY
VOL. CIV, NO. 4
Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 104, July 2000 - April, 2001. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101221/. Accessed May 5, 2015.