7 Yale J.L. & Feminism 279 (1995)
In Her Own Way: Marietta Stow's Crusade for Probate Law Reform within the Nineteenth-Century Women's Rights Movement

handle is hein.journals/yjfem7 and id is 285 raw text is: In Her Own Way: Marietta Stow's Crusade for
Probate Law Reform Within the Nineteenth-Century
Women's Rights Movement
Donna C. Schuelet
I. INTRODUCTION
Around the turn of the century, as she was suffering from breast cancer,
Marietta Stow began constructing a scrapbook to document her life. On the
front cover of this remarkable tome, she pasted a slip of paper, upon which
she wrote, Whoever has charge of my effects, during my life or after my
death, I charge to keep this book sacred as a memoranda [sic] of noble work.
Never let anyone see it alone, for fear of . . . vandalism. /s/ Mrs. Stow1
Stow's scrapbook was not meant to be a private memoir. In fact, little of
Stow's life had been lived privately. She seemed driven to translate personal
events into public statements, at the same time seeking recognition and
accolades for her work on a variety of reform movements.2 This scrapbook,
assembled in her twilight years, was a deliberate attempt to shape the attitudes
of any future biographer. Yet, for all her efforts, Stow's primary role in the
nineteenth-century women's rights movement has yet to be fully recognized
or contextualized.3
During a period when women's political energies were increasingly focused
on the fight for suffrage, Marietta Stow was the only women's rights reformer
to pursue an agenda in the area of probate law.4 This appeared to be both a
worthy and an achievable goal. Her cause was worthy, because probate law
in the nineteenth century both crucially affected the life course of women and
was marked by severe gender inequality. It appeared achievable, to the extent
that, in an era of an extremely limited welfare state, the legal and political
systems (as well as husbands and fathers) would have had an interest in using
traditional private law to protect widows and orphans from economic
deprivation. Despite these considerations, however, probate law reform was
never embraced by the organized women's rights movement in any broad or
sustained manner.
This disinterest by national movement leaders has probably led historians
to pay it scant attention as well. Joan Hoff, in the first major attempt to
periodize and synthesize the legal history of American women, noted a
correlation between legal advances for women and a high degree of activity
t J.D., Boalt Hall, 1985; Ph.D. Candidate, Jurisprudence and Social Policy Program, Boalt Hall;
Lecturer, Department of History, University of California, Santa Barbara. An earlier version of this article
was presented at the 1992 meeting of the Pacific Coast Branch of the American Historical Association.
The author would like to thank Harry Scheiber, Barbara Babcock, Sara Alpern, Reva Siegel, and Michael
Knish for helpful comments. Research for this article was supported by the University of California,
Berkeley, the Huntington Library, the American Historical Association, and the Woodrow Wilson
Foundation.

Copyright © 1995 by the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism

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