In 1974, a Louisiana woman named Joan Feenstra charged that her husband, Harold, molested their daughter. Wait, it gets worse: To defend himself against this charge, Harold hired a lawyer — and to pay for that lawyer, he, unbeknownst to Joan, mortgaged the family’s home. Although she dropped the charge and the couple separated, Joan learned of her husband’s actions two years later when his lawyer, Karl Kirchberg, demanded payment and threatened foreclosure to get it. But, shockingly enough, what Harold did was perfectly legal. Under the Head and Master law still then in effect in some states, including Louisiana, men had final say over all household decisions and jointly owned property. Not for long: Joan filed a lawsuit challenging the Head and Master law as unconstitutional. The case slowly made its way to the Supreme Court, which, following arguments on December 10, 1980, ruled unanimously in Joan’s favor on March 23, 1981. Come 2015, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg used the Court’s ruling in Kirchberg v. Feenstra to argue in favor of same-sex marriage in the historic Obergefell v. Hodges case.
For more moments in housing history, check out the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS® timeline.