In 1909, the state legislature of Illinois enacted a statute called the Woman’s Ten Hour Law. The law prohibited women who were employed in factories and other manufacturing facilities from working more than 10 hours per day. The law did not apply to men. W. C. Ritchie & Co., an employer, brought a lawsuit that challenged the statute as being unconstitutional, in violation of the equal protection clause of the Illinois constitution. In upholding the statute, the Illinois Supreme Court stated,
It is known to all men (and what we know as men we cannot profess to be ignorant of as judges) that woman’s physical structure and the performance of maternal functions place her at a great disadvantage in the battle of life; that while a man can work for more than 10 hours a day without injury to himself, a woman, especially when the burdens of motherhood are upon her, cannot; that while a man can work standing upon his feet for more than 10 hours a day, day after day, without injury to himself, a woman cannot; and that to require a woman to stand upon her feet for more than 10 hours in any one day and perform severe manual labor while thus standing, day after day, has the effect to impair her health, and that as weakly and sickly women cannot be mothers of vigorous children.
We think the general consensus of opinion, not only in this country but in the civilized countries of Europe, is, that a working day of not more than 10 hours for women is justified for the following reasons: (1) the physical organization of women, (2) her maternal function, (3) the rearing and education of children, (4) the maintenance of the home; and these conditions are, so far, matters of general knowledge that the courts will take judicial cognizance of their existence.
Surrounded as women are by changing conditions of society, and the evolution of employment which environs them, we agree fully with what is said by the Supreme Court of Washington in the Buchanan case; “law is, or ought to be, a progressive science.”
Is the statute fair? Would the statute be lawful today? Should the law be a “progressive science”? W. C. Ritchie & Co. v. Wayman, Attorney for Cook County, Illinois, 244 Ill. 509, 91 N. E. 695, 1910 Ill. Lexis 1958 (Supreme Court of Illinois)

  • CreatedAugust 12, 2015
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