Foltz as Reform Lobbyist in the 1890s

From Woman Lawyer: The Trials of Clara Foltz -- Online Notes For The Book

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The following Note discusses Foltz's role in the development of the parole system in California and various women's rights measures including a bill allowing women to be the administrators of estates and Notaries.

Parole Legislation

Standard contemporary sources credited Foltz as the author of the parole system in California. See e.g., BENCH AND BAR OF SAN FRANCISCO AND CALIFORNIA, at 109 (1926) (in the Clara Shortridge Foltz entry, it describes how she “pioneered the movement [for a system of parole]… her effort was unsuccessful, but subsequently at the instance of Col Sonntag, then a member of the board of State Prison Directors, the legislation was adopted.” At the time she was appointed to the State Board of Charities and Corrections, (see Chapter Four) it was widely reported that Foltz was responsible for the parole system. S.F. CALL, Mar. 13, 1910. Unsolicited Honors Worthily Bestowed, TIDINGS, Feb. 18, 1910, at 13 (parole system an example of “her great concern for the welfare of prisoners”). Sheldon L. Messinger, John E. Berecochea, David Rauma & Richard A. Berk, The Foundations of Parole in California, 19 L. SOC. REV. 69 (1985) tells the story of the parole legislation, starting with the 1887 bill described in the text. In its gripping description of the parole development, the article does not mention Clara Foltz, but says, at page 83, that the origins of the 1891 bill (the one she authored) were unknown. The article builds on an earlier detailed account of the 1887, 1891, and 1893 bills. John Edward Berecochea, Origins and Early Development of Parole in California (1982) (unpublished Ph.D. dissertation, University of California) missed Foltz’s role, but included an account of the 1891 Foltz bill, which puzzles over where it came from, at 81-83.

Nestor A. Young of San Diego introduced Foltz’s bill in the Assembly, where it was reported out from committee with an adverse recommendation. The excessive sentencing and various scandals that plagued California prisons in the late nineteenth century are well described in these two connected sources. See also SHELLEY BOOKSPAN, A GERM OF GOODNESS: THE CALIFORNIA STATE PRISON SYSTEM, 1851-1944. (1991). A contemporary view is in the Report of the Special Commission of Inquiry into the General Administration of the State Prisons of California, App. J. 25th Sess. Ca. Legislature, ( (1883) which contains a stunning depiction of prison conditions. Parole as originally proposed had a number of purposes—to prevent possible corruption in the pardon reviews, to improve the consistency of sentences, to reduce excessive and unfair sentences, and to reward rehabilitation. Parole proposals were connected to indeterminate sentencing (another cause of penal reformers) and fast became part of the plea bargaining system as well. For an excellent historical overview, see Kara Dansky, Understanding California Sentencing, 43 U.S.F. L. REV. 45, 56-59 (2008).

By 1900, twenty states had some form of prisoner parole. Edward Lindsey, Historical Sketch of the Indeterminate Sentence and Parole System, 16 J. CRIM. L. & CRIMINOLOGY 9, 40 (1925). GEORGE FISHER, PLEA BARGAINING’S TRIUMPH, A HISTORY OF PLEA BARGAINING IN AMERICA 122-129 (2003). In a critical review of DAVID J. ROTHMAN, CONSCIENCE AND CONVENIENCE: THE ASYLUM AND ITS ALTERNATIVES IN PROGRESSIVE AMERICA (1980), Professor Guyora Binder argues that it deals inadequately with the complex motivations of the progressive reformers who took up parole so enthusiastically. Penal Reform and Progressive Ideology, 9 REV. AM. HIST. 224 (1981).

Women's Rights Measures

A bill to relieve the disabilities of married women and enable them to be executors (“executrixes”) and administrators of estates and guardians of children passed without much opposition in 1891. Introduced by Senator Albert W. Crandall, a Republican, it bears Foltz’s mark in the simplicity of the drafting. She claimed authorship though nothing on the record shows her hand in it. Cal. Stat., ch. 123, s. 1352 at 136 (passed March 19, 1891).

In the same 1891 session, a bill limited the husband’s absolute control over the property acquired during marriage. Like Foltz’s parole bill, it was introduced in the Senate by Frank McGowan. Charlotte K. Goldberg, A Cauldron of Anger: The Spreckels Family and Reform of California Community Property Law, 12 W. LEGAL HIST. 241, 244-45 (1999) explains more about the statute, and its ultimate fate in the courts (where it was largely dismantled). Though Foltz and Gordon are not mentioned in the news stories or record of this bill, it certainly fits into their usual legislative agenda. The bill was introduced in an earlier session by Stephen White, another Foltz friend. Goldberg, A Cauldron of Anger, at 245.

The Notary Bill was a great achievement and was related to both Foltz’s interest in women’s rights and in penal reform. From the first, women lawyers sought to be Notaries. For instance, Myra Bradwell tried unsuccessfully to gain the office in 1869 at the same time she was trying to be a lawyer. The Governor Refused, 2 CHI. LEGAL NEWS 109 (YEAR). On Marilla Ricker and the connection of the notary office to criminal law practice, see JILL NORGREN, BELVA LOCKWOOD, at 91-92; On-Line Bibliographic Note: Women Lawyers History and Individual Biographies (Marilla Ricker). The connection of the Notary job to penal reform is also seen in the fact that Addie Ballou, a prison reformer, joined Foltz and Gordon in lobbying for the bill in California. REDA DAVIS, CALIFORNIA WOMEN 139 (1968).

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