The burgeoning industrial revolution at the turn of the 20th century made it inevitable that women would join the work force. But, there were no laws enacted which specifically target protection of women in the workforce. In fact, labor was cheap and management exploitive. Laborers were being forced to work long hours without additional compensation. This time saw significant strides in women's rights. Women were striving for suffrage and equal recognition under the law. It was accomplished through petitions, going through the courts, rallies, public debates, and picketing. Although effective, working conditions for women were not equivalent to those of men. It was not until the creation of labor unions and the eventual inclusion of women into these unions that there is advancement in the working conditions for women.
Muller v. Oregon 1908
From my research I found that Muller v Oregon was one of the first cases in which women's working conditions were argued. In September 1905, an employee of Grand Laundry in Portland Oregon, Emma Gotcher was required by her employer to work overtime. By requiring her to work over time, Grand Laundry had violated Oregon's ten hour law. The law stated that it was illegal to make women work for more than ten hours a day. Two weeks later, the state of Oregon filed criminal charges against the owner of the laundry shop, Curt Muller. Muller hired a lawyer, and lost his case in the circuit court. He argued that the Oregon law violated his right to contract freely with his workers. Muller appealed to the Oregon Supreme Court and lost yet again. The state of Oregon hired a very gifted lawyer, Louis Brandies, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1875. Brandies had gathered a group of people to gather facts on the impact of working hours for women. He concluded that overwork is more disastrous to the health of women than of men, mainly because of women's "special physical organization." He also stated that an overlong work day also affected childbirth and female functions. He said that when hours were reduced there was "extraordinary improvement in physique and morals." "It gave young unmarried working-women the opportunity to learn the art of homemaking, upon which health, welfare, and property of her whole family will depend." (Supreme Court Collection) In short, the state legislature had acted reasonably in limiting women's hours. Muller's lawyers argued that both women and men alike were entitled to equal protection of the laws. The lawyers said that women were persons and citizens and they were competent to contract without reference to their labor as are men. On February 28, 1908, Associate Justice David Brewer agreed that women's overwork injured the general welfare. He shared his own views by stating that the most important part of the legislation protected women by limiting by contractual powers and this wasn't imposed solely for her benefit, but also largely for the benefits of...