Labor in the time of the industrial revolution differed greatly from the modern times. From many points of discussion, the conditions under which people were expected to work were inadequate. The wage-earners were malnourished, poorly dressed, and housed in miserable shacks. Such conditions logically led to discussions about legislation that would provoke an improvement in the situation.
One such debate that grew into a court case of epochal importance was Mueller versus Oregon. This paper will analyze Nancy Woloch’s work of the same name, shedding light on the historical and ideological context of the case. The overview will cover the positions of both sides, their legislative and ethical backgrounds, as well as the proceedings of the case. The transition from manual labor to machine factory production did not improve the situation of workers, with many marginalized groups being especially vulnerable to exploitation and human rights violations.
Nancy Woloch wrote Mueller v. Oregon labor law case overview in 1996. The business of the 1990s is defined as power entrepreneurship, where the one who is physically stronger and whose status in the hierarchical chain is higher was right. Women’s names did not appear among the managers or owners of large projects related to natural resources. Circumstances were different in factories – women were almost always taken there, but working conditions were far from the same as today. The same applied to office work, as well as small managerial positions. In the 90s, employees of companies had to be content with dubious working conditions. Many articles and books have been written on this topic, and Nancy Woloch’s work is no exception. Woloch is a specialist with many years of experience in the history of the struggle for women’s rights. She has written numerous books in which she focuses on the historical context of women’s rights, paying particular attention to the period of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The purpose of writing Woloch’s “Muller v. Oregon” was to highlight the beginning of the formation of modern labor legislation. Nancy Woloch’s provides an overview of the Mueller v. Oregon breakthrough case, while also discussing the events surrounding it. She also discusses the decision itself, as well as its consequences. In the case, the state argued for imposing a limitation on women’s working hours, while allowing men’s hours to remain the same. This decision was made from a desire to emphasize women’s childrearing and reproductive roles in society. It was argued that a longer work shift would negatively affect women’s physical and mental state, while excluding men from the argument. An assumption about women’s role in society was made by the attorney, stemming from misogynistic bias. To counteract this notion, Mueller’s attorney cited the 14th amendment, highlighting women’s right to due process. At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were no laws regulating the number of hours per working day. Some children worked 12-16 hours a day with women and men in factories, doing dangerous work that required concentration and attentiveness. The lack of preparation and capability, then, becomes a frequent source of accidents or injury, impacting the health of workers. At this time, the focus was made on promoting the rights of women and children, as a starting point towards ensuring better workplace legislation for everyone later on. The laws applied to the vulnerable minority had to be later transformed into universal ones.
Concurrently, there were many people who fought for the advancement of women’s rights and freedoms. Women desired access to the same treatment and opportunity as men. Initially, the reformers intended to introduce hourly limits for all people, not just for women. However, this proposal was rejected by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, all the workers at that time sought to improve working conditions and wanted to achieve a better life for themselves. Many times, they resorted to testing and organizing strikes to get what they wanted. These actions soon bore fruit in the form of improved working conditions.
Louis Brandeis, an American lawyer and a member of the Supreme Court, joined the promotion of the law on limiting working hours for women. The document based on his reports became one of the critical factors that influenced the course of the case “Mueller v. Oregon.” His main argument was that overwork has a more detrimental effect on the health of women than men because of the special physical organization of women. In understanding this argument, it is necessary to consider the responsibility of the Government to step in and enact laws to help ensure protection for women. Mueller’s lawyers argued that the law under which the information was filed contradicts the constitution and that its violation is not a crime.
As an argument in favor of the fact that overtime work for women is not a crime, Mueller says that people should be able to enter contracts freely with their employers. At the same time, the restriction of working hours for women allegedly may violate this right. Muller’s arguments were based on prejudices about the equality of physical strength of women and men. He believed that there was nothing wrong with equal working hours and that this would not lead to nervous conditions for women and men. As for the style of writing Nancy Woloch’s documents, he is quite diplomatic and detached. Woloch gives his readers to make their own judgments about the situation without imposing their own opinion on this issue. In the text, some thoughts of the author himself are visible, which pushes the reader to think.
Woloch, as a writer covering the court case, presents the issue from a biased standpoint.. It is also important to emphasize the rhetoric by which “Mueller v. Oregon” is described. Woloch uses factual and various documentary and legal terms, which provide a certain evidentiary and academic base. Woloch wanted to show the struggle of society for workers’ rights, including women so that every reader could see the efforts invested in the struggle for equality. The task was not to write a dry extract from the archive but to give it a certain emotional coloring and make it closer to the reader.
In conclusion, Nancy Woloch’s work “Muller v. Oregon” is an excellent example of nonfiction. The document reflects the efforts of the movement for equal rights for workers, as well as for improving conditions in factories. Although Louis Brandeis’ lawyers have met severe opposition in the person of Mueller, this case is indicative. It mainly reflects the first attempts of workers to fight for their rights and comfort in the workplace. This event is significant for the further development of the movement for the rights of employees of companies and seeking a revision of discriminatory laws from the Government.
Nancy Woloch, Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 1996), 1.
“Muller V. Oregon (1908),” LII / Legal Information Institute, Web.
“Child Labor in the Industrial Revolution,” History Crunch – History Articles, Summaries, Biographies, Resources and More, Web.
Woloch, Brief History with Documents.