Origins of Protective Labor Legislation for Women, 1905-1925

By Susan Lehrer

Subjects: Women's Studies
Series: SUNY series on Women and Work
Paperback : 9780887065057, 318 pages, July 1987
Hardcover : 9780887065064, 318 pages, July 1987

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In this comprehensive, wide-ranging analysis, Susan Lehrer investigates the origins of protective labor legislation for women, exposing the social forces that contributed to its passage and the often contradictory effects it had on those it was designed to protect. A rapidly expanding female work force is prompting both employers and society to rethink attitudes and policies toward working women. Lehrer provides critical insight into current issues affecting female employees—pay equity, equal rights, maternity—that have their roots in past debates about and present realities affecting women workers.

Protective labor laws enacted from 1905 to 1925 had the effect of delimiting the position of working women. Lehrer examines the relationship between women's work in the labor force and domestic labor, and the reasons why the government was interested in regulating this relationship. Focusing on the dual need for a continuing labor force (women as producers of children) and cheap labor (women in low-paying jobs), she demonstrates the way in which social reforms worked to the advantage of capitalism even though they materially aided subordinate classes.

The principal groups considered herein are social reform organizations (suffragists and the Women's Trade Union League), organized labor (AFL, ILGWU, printing trades' unions), and employers' associations (National Association of Manufacturers and the National Civic Federation). Considered together, this book provides a broad and detailed picture of the forces involved in the issues of protective labor legislation.

Susan Lehrer is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the State University of New York at New Paltz.