The Wages of Sickness: The Politics of Health Insurance in Progressive America

By Beatrix Hoffman | Go to book overview

2

Crafting a Solution to
the Sickness Problem
THE AMERICAN ASSOCIATION
FOR LABOR LEGISLATION

High above the streets of Manhattan, several stories removed from New York's shops, factories, and docks, a world apart from its hospitals, dispensaries, and fraternal orders, men and women in white collars labored to solve the economic problem of workers' sickness. The sixteenth floor of the imposing Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower housed the national headquarters of the American Association for Labor Legislation, sponsor of the nation's first compulsory health insurance proposals.

Academic economists Richard Ely and Henry Farnam founded the AALL in 1906 as the American branch of the Geneva-based International Association for Labor Legislation. The AALL defined itself as a bureau of "experts” rather than a political organization, and its objective was the "conservation of human resources” through labor legislation, which intended to protect American workers from the worst excesses of industrial capitalism. John R. Commons, the famous labor economist at the University of Wisconsin, became the organization's first secretary. Commons's protégé John B. Andrews was appointed executive secretary in 1909, when the association moved its headquarters to New York City and the Metropolitan Life building. The AALL's new office was run by Andrews and his future wife, Irene Osgood, another Commons student. The organization's national membership never grew to much more than 3,000, but the AALL's journal, American Labor Legislation Review (ALLR), was widely circulated and cited as the major source of information on labor laws throughout the Progressive Era. The association's board members ranged from settlement house leader Jane Addams to insurance execu

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