Thursday, June 4, 2009

The 1908 Woman: An Object of Public Interest

Here is an interesting item that I came across recently in a publication by the Supreme Court Historical Society.

In 1908 the Supreme Court decided a case that upheld an Oregon law which prohibited an employer from requiring a woman to work more than 10 hours in a day. The fact that the court would allow the government to interfere with a private employer and an employee was pretty radical for that time, but even more amazing was the reasoning which the court adopted.
The court found that, “women’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, continued standing for a long time on her feet at work, repeating this from day to day, lends itself 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.”

What a difference a century can make! Not withstanding that the ruling was in favor of women, the paternalistic approach which the court took at that time is just the opposite of the equality sought by women of today.

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