From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States

By Robert H. Bremner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 13
Women's Hours and Wages

The courts here deal with statutes seeking to affect in a very concrete fashion the sternest actualities of modern life: the conduct of industry and the labor of human beings therein engaged. Yet the cases are decided, in the main, on abstract issues, on tenacious theories of economic and political philosophy.

FELIX FRANKFURTER, "Hours of Labor and Realism in Constitutional Law."

T HE logical sequel to child-labor laws was regulation of the hours and conditions of women's work. Inspectors charged with enforcing legal restrictions on the employment of children repeatedly complained of the difficulty of securing compliance with those laws as long as girls below the minimum working age were able to obtain jobs by pretending to be a year or so older than they actually were. Reformers pointed out that if girls under fourteen were deemed too young to be allowed to work, "women" of fifteen or sixteen deserved protection against overwork.1 Persons of widely varying political and economic outlooks recognized the need for state intervention to conserve the health and energies of workingwomen for the responsibilities of motherhood. The cause held an especial appeal for feminists, who inclined toward the view that woman had always performed the important work of the world and had always been exploited by the predatory male.2 Workingmen, however, were scarcely less sympathetic; for it was readily apparent to them that the low wages and long hours that prevailed in industries employing large numbers of women and children dragged down the level of labor as a whole, made the achievement of better conditions for men

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