Magdalene Zier (JD/PhD candidate, Stanford Law School) has posted "'Champion Man-Hater of All Time': Feminism, Insanity, and Property Rights in 1940s America," which is forthcoming in the Michigan Journal of Gender & Law. Here's the abstract:
Legions of law students in property or trust and estates courses have studied the will dispute, In re Strittmater’s Estate. The cases, casebooks, and treatises that cite Strittmater present the 1947 New Jersey supreme court decision as a model of the “insane delusion” doctrine. Readers learn that snubbed relatives successfully invalidated Louisa Strittmater’s will, which left her estate to the Equal Rights Amendment campaign, by convincing the court that her radical views on gender equality amounted to insanity and, thus, testamentary incapacity. By failing to provide any commentary or context on the overt sexism, these sources affirm the court’s portrait of Louisa Strittmater as an eccentric landlady and fanatical feminist.
This is troubling. Strittmater should be a well-known case, but not for the proposition that feminism is an insane delusion. Despite the decision’s popularity on law school syllabi, no scholar has interrogated the case’s broader historical background. Through original archival research, this Article centers Strittmater as a case study in how social views on gender, psychology, and the law shaped one another in the immediate aftermath of World War II, hampering women’s property rights and efforts to achieve constitutional equality. More than just a problematic precedent, the case exposes a world in which the “Champion Man-Hater of All Time”—newspapers’ epithet for Strittmater—was not only a humorous headline but also a credible threat to the postwar order that courts were helping to erect. The Article thus challenges the textbook understanding of “insane delusion” and shows that postwar culture was conducive to a strengthening of the longstanding suspicion that feminist critiques of gender inequality were, simply put, crazy.
The full article is available here.
-- Karen Tani