Women in Factories 1908: Muller v. Oregon

Women in Factories 1908: Muller v. Oregon

Women in Factories 1908: Muller v. Oregon
Women in Factories 1908: Muller v. Oregon

Muller v. State of Oregon

Muller v. State of Oregon, a 1908 U.S. Supreme Court case that, although appearing to support the health and welfare of female employees, actually resulted in extra protective legislation that was destructive to workplace equality for years. The issue was a 1903 Oregon legislation prohibiting women from working more than 10 hours in a single day. Curt Muller, the proprietor of a laundry, was fined $10 in 1905 for allowing a supervisor to force Mrs. E. Gotcher to work more than 10 hours.

Muller’s counsel, William D. Fenton, argued in front of the United States Supreme Court that the Act violated Mrs. Gotcher’s Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by prohibiting her from freely contracting with her employer. However, the state’s counsel, Louis D. Brandeis, opted to argue that because of their bodily differences from males, women need “particular protection.”

He emphasized on women’s dependent and physiologically reproductive duties rather than economic ones in what became known as the “Brandeis brief,” a 113-page paper summarizing quasiscientific research on the harmful consequences of lengthy working hours on both men and women. The court wrote that a woman “is properly placed in a class by herself, and legislation designed for her protection may be sustained, even when similar legislation is not necessary for men, and could not be sustained,” referring to the “proper discharge of her maternal functions” and the “well-being of the race.”

Despite the fact that modern Progressive reformers hailed the decision as a victory in the fight for better working conditions for women, some equal rights feminists recognized that it provided protection by reinforcing gender stereotypes, an argument that would ultimately limit women’s economic opportunities.

 

SEE ALSO:

Workers’ Compensation Law (1910);

The Child Labor Act of 1916;

The National Labor Relations Act (1935);

The Fair Labor Standards Act (1938).

 

SOURCES:

Women in Factories 1908: Muller v. Oregon

Muller v. Oregon

The Law Book: From Hammurabi to the International Criminal Court, 250 Milestones in the History of Law (Sterling Milestones) Hardcover – Illustrated, 22 Oct. 2015, English edition by Michael H. Roffer (Autor)

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