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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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A Class by Herself: Muller v. Oregon (1908)

A Class by Herself: Muller v. Oregon (1908)

(p.54) 3 A Class by Herself: Muller v. Oregon (1908)
A Class by Herself

Nancy Woloch

Princeton University Press

This chapter assesses Muller v. Oregon (1908), its significance, and the law it upheld: Oregon's ten-hour law of 1903. Convicted of violating Oregon's law of 1903 that barred the employment of women in factories and laundries for more than ten hours a day, Curt Muller—the owner of a Portland laundry—challenged the constitutionality of the law, which he claimed violated his right of freedom to contract under the due process of the Fourteenth Amendment. On February 24, 1908, the Supreme Court unanimously upheld the Oregon law. This decision marked a momentous triumph for progressive reformers and a turning point in the movement for protective laws. At the same time, by declaring woman “in a class by herself,” the Supreme Court embedded in constitutional law an axiom of female difference. The Muller decision thus pushed public policy forward toward modern labor standards and simultaneously distanced it from sexual equality.

Keywords:   ten-hour law, women workers, Curt Muller, Fourteenth Amendment, protective laws, female difference, modern labor standards, sexual equality

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