Civilizing Capitalism: The National Consumers' League, Women's Activism, and Labor Standards in the New Deal Era

By Landon R. Y. Storrs | Go to book overview

chapter 7

Ambiguous Victory
The Fair Labor
Standards Act
of 1938

When Consumers' League veteran Josephine Goldmark wrote that "New Deal labor legislation did not spring full-blown. Its roots lie in the preceding thirty years or more," she referred especially to the history of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. 1 For adult workers whose occupations were judged to be in the flow of interstate commerce, the FLSA established a nationwide minimum wage rate and maximum hours standard. It also prohibited the employment of minors younger than sixteen. This legislation represented the culmination of four decades of activism by the National Consumers' League. In the years before 1937, when the FLSA was introduced in Congress, the league laid much of the legal and political groundwork for the bill. Then, under the leadership of its new general secretary, Mary Dublin, the NCL coordinated a lobbying campaign in Washington and across the country that helped win the bitter struggle in Congress over the bill in 1938. For this drive, the NCL drew on its traditional constituencies of middle-class women and progressive academics and also cooperated closely with ascendant proregulatory forces in the labor movement.

As enacted, the FLSA was a disappointment to the Consumers' League. The law's stan

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