California Women: Trying to Use Federal Taxes to Put the 'Community' in Community Property

Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society, Forthcoming

50 Pages Posted: 3 Jul 2010

Date Written: July 2, 2010


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 equality between spouses. Historically, however, as the regime operated in the United States, it 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 article 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 a federal income tax reduction if the state’s property system gave more rights to wives. Women’s use of these anti-tax arguments helped further their goals of equalizing spouses’ rights and obligations until the tacit political alliance of women and wealthy taxpayers unwound.

Keywords: community property, California, federalism, income tax, progressive era, tax reform, women's movement

Suggested Citation

McMahon, Stephanie Hunter, California Women: Trying to Use Federal Taxes to Put the 'Community' in Community Property (July 2, 2010). Wisconsin Journal of Law, Gender & Society, Forthcoming, Available at SSRN:

Stephanie Hunter McMahon (Contact Author)

University of Cincinnati - College of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 210040
Cincinnati, OH 45221-0040
United States
513-556-4206 (Phone)
513-556-1236 (Fax)

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