Tucson, Ariz., in 1909 (Wikipedia)

Tucson, Ariz., in 1909 (Wikipedia) (click to enlarge)

Imagine a legal system in which your property rights could not be assured, and where your land holdings could be stripped of you based on your marital status.

That scenario is not beyond imagining. As you might surmise, that situation was faced by approximately half of the U.S. population at one time (and continues for many more globally today).

In the June issue of Arizona Attorney Magazine, we were privileged to feature a story that occurred right in Tucson not so very long ago.

It was titled Anna’s Story, and here is how author and attorney Marjorie Cunningham opened the real-life tale:

“Buying, selling and trading land has been a part of Arizona’s booms and busts since colonial times. One shrewd and successful land speculator during the 1800s was a French woman named Anna Charauleau. Ms. Charauleau also exhibited the strong will and relentless nature needed to pursue the protection of her legal rights. Those qualities became important in Arizona legal history, as she was a party to several landmark cases decided by Arizona’s Supreme Court in the 1870s and 1880s in which women’s property rights were at issue.”

Read the whole article here.

And be sure to read carefully the excerpts from the Supreme Court opinion regarding the land matters. Here is how a wise justice analyzed things:

“Before her marriage, the law presumes [a woman] competent to buy and sell and convey property, and supposes she acts in such matters as intelligently as if she were the opposite sex; but during the existence of the marriage relation somehow this condition of ignorance and stupidity is supposed to settle down upon her, to benumb her faculties, to cast a cloud upon her intelligence, to be lifted only by the death of her spouse or other severance of the marriage. … ”

“We are certain that the presumption contended for by the counsel, that a woman of mature years, and an American wife, ceases from the day of her marriage to know what she is doing in the execution of a conveyance until advised … should no longer obtain in a court of justice.”

Thank you to our author for sharing such a compelling piece of Arizona history.

Are there other historic stories that are evocative to you? Contact me at arizona.attorney@azbar.org.