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A Class by HerselfProtective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s-1990s$
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Nancy Woloch

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691002590

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691002590.001.0001

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(p.1) Introduction
A Class by Herself

Nancy Woloch

Princeton University Press

This introductory chapter provides an overview of single-sex protective laws. The longevity of protective laws rests in part on reformers' bifocal defense. The goal of such laws, their proponents claimed, was to compensate for women's disadvantages in the labor market and to serve as the linchpin of a larger plan to achieve wage-and-hour standards for all employees. This double-planked rationale—though contradictory—proved versatile and enduring; it suited constituents with varied priorities. Protective laws' longevity also rested on effective social feminist organization and, after 1920, on the federal Women's Bureau. In retrospect, single-sex protective laws were an unwieldy means to achieve egalitarian ends—or what women reformers of the 1920s called “industrial equality.” However, critics charged that the laws failed to redress disadvantage and even compounded it. Protection's supporters also confronted developments they could not anticipate and shifts in attitude they could not foresee.

Keywords:   single-sex protective laws, protective laws, labor market, social feminist organization, Women's Bureau, industrial equality, women employees, women's disadvantages

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