Tentative Recommendations Affecting Women in Industry, 1914



The suggestion to invest a federal agency with authority to standardize conditions of labor for women and children engaged in the manufacture of goods for interstate traffic does not contemplate power to enforce standards by actually prohibiting the interstate shipment of goods unless made under conditions in accordance with such standards. It only contemplates investing the agency with power to accord a substantial preferential treatment to goods made under standardized conditions.

To illustrate:

1. Reports published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that many foot treadle machines make excessive demands upon women operators. The suggestion is that some federal agency be empowered to set up a standard of operating demands for foot treadle machines, e.g., that the treadles shall not be more than a prescribed height from the ground, that they shall not require more than a prescribed amount of pressure to operate "in the level of business," that they be equipped with a double set of treads (like the pneumatic body ironer) so that the operator may sit or stand at work, etc., etc.

The manufacturer who complies with these conditions, puts his machines on the interstate market, backed so far as operating demands are concerned by the approval of the Federal Government -- which is no inconsiderable selling asset. The manufacturer who fails to comply with the conditions, is still free to ship his machines into other states, but the makers of these [page 2] unstandardized machines should be equally liable with the employer for injury to an operator's health. Unless, however, the operation of an unstandardized machine, and the impairment of health from abdominal or pelvic disorders or physical strain subsequent to the operation of such machine, are made prima facie evidence in a suit for damages -- the liability will amount to nothing as it is too difficult to establish legally the direct connection between injury to health and excessive muscular fatigue. The only way in which effective legal recognition can be taken of this hazard to health from excessive fatigue -- a hazard which is not a matter of dispute with the medical fraternity -- is to force the maker and owner of a machine which has been constructed without due reference to the physical welfare of the operator, to prove that the injury to health did not come from operating that machine as plaintiff alleges.

2. The law creating the proposed federal agency should not confine its provisions to health problems involved in machine operations. The agency should be authorized to develop standards of hours, wages and working conditions for industries which are conspicuous employers of women and children and are engaged in interstate traffic. The law should also accord a preferential treatment to goods made under such conditions by placing an impost on all goods of the same kind not made under such conditions. Concretely: -- If the agency develops a standard of mill hygiene for the manufacture of cotton, determines a scale of wages and hours for women and children, the law should also provide for a tax on goods not made under such conditions -- such tax to be fixed by the federal agency on the basis of difference in the cost [page 3] of labor under the standardized and unstandardized conditions. The effect of such a provision would be to reduce to a minimum any handicap under which industries may labor in interstate competition because of their location in states having stricter regulations affecting wage-earning women than prevail in competing states. It will not only conserve and encourage progress toward industrial betterment in progressive states, but will apply a wholesome stimulus to laggard states since the impost, quite aside from the financial consideration, will handicap goods in interstate competition because of the stigma which it implies as to conditions under which the goods were made.

Query I. Will it be possible -- and if possible advisable -- to enact legislation such as that incorporated in the Australasian Act of 1906, which provided for a tax on goods offered for interstate shipment unless they bore the authorized declaration that wages paid were fair and reasonable? We have, of course, a constitutional restriction on interstate taxes. Would it apply in this case? If so, is the health of women in industry of sufficient importance, and does the remedy suggested offer sufficient promise, to call for a constitutional amendment?

Query II. In determining a living wage, should the basis of cost of living be the family as a unit, or the units of the family under self-supporting conditions? [page 4]




The work of the Women's and Children's Division of the Commission has been concentrated upon the development of some remedies for ills revealed in published reports on conditions surrounding wage-earning women.

The ills reflected in these reports grow out of:

I. Lack of national standards resulting in:

(a) Frequent defective hygiene and sanitation in industries employing large numbers of women and children.

(b) Frequent failure to regulate and equally frequent defective regulation of working hours for women and children.

(c) Existing wages which apparently take no account of any factors save those of supply and demand, and which are not as yet in any effective manner influenced by collective bargaining.

II. Laws which fix standards for all industries, neither taking cognizance of the varying demands made by different industries upon the physical and nervous energies of the women and children workers, nor making reasonable provision for variations in underlying problems of administration. Effective enforcement frequently fails to accomplish the object of such laws.

III. Utter failure of the liability laws to take any account of the hazard to the health of women operating defective or excessively heavy running machinery.

The remedies suggested are:

I. Vesting some existing federal agency, such as the National Health Service, or some contemplated agency such as the National Industrial Council, with power:

(a) To set up standards of healthful working conditions, including standards of reasonable operating demands of machinery.

(b) To standardize the hours for women and children engaged in industries involved in interstate traffic.

(c) To determine standard scales of wages for women and children in industries involved in interstate traffic. <[But this proposition does not involve making wages legally mandatory. (See explanatory sheet)]>

II. Drawing a model state law which will provide for sufficient power and flexibility to permit the executors of the law to standardize hours, wages and conditions of labor with due reference -- first, to the welfare of the worker; second, the character of the industries employing women and children, and third, the problems of interstate competition. (In fixing standards for industries involved in interstate competition, administrative officers should be authorized to cooperate with the federal agency proposed in connection with remedy I.)

III. A strong recommendation on the part of the Commission on Industrial Relations that liability laws take cognizance of the hazard to the health of women operating defective, or excessively heavy running machinery, by throwing the burden of proof upon the employer in case of a damage suit for injury to health.

Item Relations