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2011 Archives

SMU mourns the loss of women's rights pioneer Louise Raggio

Alumna's efforts led to women controlling their personal finances and real estate

Louise Raggio with Vivian Castleberry and Texas Governor Ann Richards in 2003 at SMU

Louise Raggio (center), who died Sunday, is shown with friend and fellow women's rights pioneer Vivian Castleberry (left) and the late Texas Governor Ann Richards at an SMU Raggio Lecture in 2003. (Photo by Clayton Smith)

January 24, 2011

DALLAS (SMU) — Louise Ballerstedt Raggio, renowned Dallas attorney and SMU Distinguished Alumna, died Sunday of natural causes at 91.  A national figure in women’s rights, Raggio’s work on passage of the Marital Act of 1967 ended the archaic requirement that Texas women turn over control of their personal finances and real estate to their husbands upon marriage.

A memorial for Raggio is scheduled for 2 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 30, at First Unitarian Church, 40105 Normandy Ave. in Dallas.   Visitation will be from 5-7 pm. Saturday, Jan. 29, at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home.

A photograph of Raggio’s 1952 graduating class from what is now SMU’s Dedman School of Law tells her pioneering story better than words: Sitting on the front row, she was the only woman in the group.  Raggio was the first woman assistant district attorney in Dallas County and the first woman to prosecute a criminal case here.

Over her lifetime, Raggio did more to ensure the protection of women's legal rights in Texas than any other person in history, and the lecture series established in her name at SMU continues to celebrate her tremendous accomplishments.

“As a pioneer on behalf of women’s legal rights, Louise Raggio was a role model to generations of students and colleagues and a fearless advocate for her clients. The SMU lecture series named in her honor brought to campus other innovative thinkers on women’s issues, from journalists and authors to public officials,” said SMU President R. Gerald Turner.  “By remaining active at SMU, she ensured that young people understood the struggles of the past and are prepared to address unresolved issues for equality and equity in our society. Her impact is immeasurable. We are all better for her leadership and courage.”

The Louise Ballerstedt Raggio Endowed Lecture Series in Women's Studies played an important role at SMU after friends and family established it in her name in 1988. The series consistently brought to the University nationally renowned leaders on gender and women's issues, and featured such speakers as author and feminist Gloria Steinem, former U.S. Surgeon General M. Joycelyn Elders, former Texas governor Ann Richards, former CIA agent Valerie PlameWilson and Teach for America founder Wendy Kopp.

The Women's Studies Program of SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences was home to the Raggio Lecture Series until 2010.  The Dedman School of Law will become host to the series named for one of its most successful and beloved graduates.

“We are very saddened at Louise’s passing,” said John Attanasio, the Judge James Noel Dean of SMU’s Dedman School of Law. “She was a champion for the rights of women and for the rights of many others across this state and all across the country.  We are very proud to call her an alumna.”

Raggio received the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award in 1971 and was named a Dedman School of Law Distinguished Alumna in 1992, 40 years after her graduation. The University conferred its highest honor upon Raggio in 1996, presenting her with an honorary Doctor of Laws.

Raggio also has been honored by her sons, Grier, Tom and Ken Raggio, through the Remember the Ladies Campaign, which seeks to endow an archivist position dedicated solely to supporting the Archives of Women of the Southwest Collection in SMU’s DeGolyer Library.  Raggio’s own papers are part of the archive, which includes the writings, photographs and other records of notable women leaders who acted as pioneers in social and political reform movements, businesswomen who paved the way for future generations to succeed in the workforce, and influential women in the arts and voluntary service. The archive also houses papers recording the daily life of women in the 19th Century.

 Those who are interested in learning more about Raggio’s unique gifts and contributions can follow this link to view a short (8-minute) video that is frequently used to introduce the Raggio Lecture Series at SMU.


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