4 Pages

Muller v. Oregon

That woman’s physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a disadvantage in the struggle for subsistence is obvious. This is especially true when the burdens of motherhood are upon her. Even when they are not, by abundant testimony of the medical fraternity continuance for a long time on her feet at work, repeating this from day to day, tends to injurious effects upon the body, and, as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical well-being of woman becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race. . . . Though limitations upon personal and contractual rights may be removed by legislation, there is that in her disposition and habits of life which will operate against a full assertion of those rights. She will still be where some legislation to protect her seems necessary to secure a real equality of right. (p. 421)

After official approval of protective laws for women, both the number of laws and the support for them grew. A third type of law was added. Following Massachusetts’ lead in 1912, several states passed laws guaranteeing a minimum wage for women workers. It seemed both logical and just that, if women should be restricted in the number of hours they worked for their health and the well-being of society, then they should be

Proponents used the argument about women’s special place in society and as workers that had worked so well in defending other protective laws. Women needed a minimum wage, whereas men did not, because of the different moral standards of the sexes. Without adequate income, poor women were vulnerable to prostitution to earn money. Opponents, primarily employers, charged that minimum wage laws were different from other laws protecting health. They claimed that employers would be driven into bankruptcy if forced to pay a worker more than her work produced. Minimum wage laws, they said, were legislative price-fixing.