Muller v. Oregon
Ladies, Laundries, And Eventually The Third Reich
In today’s nanny culture, where individuals are deemed incapable of looking out for their own interests and government is supposedly looking our for everyone’s welfare, wage and hour legislation is an accepted commonplace. But this was not always so.
Back in 1903, the enlightened State of Oregon enacted a law regulating the working hours of women, a supposedly noble endeavor designed to protect the “weaker sex” from exploitation.
The statute provided that “. . . no female [shall] be employed in any mechanical establishment, or factory, or laundry in this state more than ten hours during any one day.”
One September day in 1905, Mrs. E. Gotcher (yes, that was really her name) did the unthinkable: in one day she worked more than ten hours at the Grand Laundry. The laundry’s owner was charged with violation of the statute, a misdemeanor, and convicted.
Not surprisingly, his conviction was upheld by the Oregon courts, which made short shrift of his argument that the law was unconstitutional. Next stop, the Supreme Court of the United States.
There, the question for the justices was whether an adult woman in the Twentieth Century United States could freely choose to work more than ten hours a day at the proscribed activities, whatever her reasons (e.g., money, learning, advancement, satisfaction) or whether the State of Oregon knew better what was good for Mrs. Gotcher and could impose its values on her and the laundry’s owner.
The Court upheld the Oregon statute, to the loud cheers of liberals who applauded that body’s enlightened concern for working women who apparently either did not know or could not protect their own interests.
But if the decision’s partisans (especially women) had paid attention to the Court’s reasons for its decision in Muller v. Oregon, they probably would not have cheered so loudly, if at all. Indeed, if they really understood the decision, they should have been appalled.
Muller v. Oregon was a unanimous decision—one that today’s feminists should take no comfort from. To quote the Court:
That woman’s physical structure and the performance of material functions places 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 . . . continuance for a long time on her feet at work . . . tends to injurious effects upon the body, and, as healthy mothers are essential to vigorous offspring, the physical wellbeing of women becomes an object of public interest and care in order to preserve the strength of the race.(My emphasis.)
This patronizing, collectivist view of American working women was not all the Court had to say about the weakness of women and their relationship to a paternalistic state.
Still again, history discloses the fact that woman has always been dependent upon man. He established his control at the outset by superior physical strength, and this control in various forms . . . has continued to the present. * * * It is still true that in the struggle for subsistence she is not an equal competitor with her brother [meaning, any man]. 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. (My emphasis.)
It was bad enough that in upholding the statute the Court, allegedly worried about subsistence, was limiting the working hours of those trying to subsist. Much worse was the Court’s view of working women as weak, timid, and dependent—even cowardly, in being unable or unwilling to assert their “rights.” Lest there be any doubt that that’s what the unanimous Court was saying:
[Woman] is so constituted that she will rest upon and look to [man] for protection; that her physical structure and a proper discharge of her maternal functions—having in view not merely her own health, but the well-being of the race—justify legislation to protect her from the greed as well as the passion of man. The limitations which this statute places upon her contractual powers, upon her right to agree with her employer as to the time she shall labor, are not imposed solely for her benefit, but for the benefit of all. (My emphasis.)
This is nothing short of collectivism squared, and is the same rationale that underlay the monstrous program that would come later in Nazi Germany: “Hitler’s Children.”
On March 20, 2000, Joshua Hammer, an experienced journalist, wrote an article for Newsweek International entitled “Hitler’s Children,” whose subtitled read: “They were the offspring of a Nazi program to create a racially pure ‘Master Race’.”
He wrote of a woman named Helga Kahrau:
Her parents barely knew one another. An ardent Nazi, her mother met Helga's father, a German Army officer, in Berlin at a party celebrating Hitler's conquest of France in June 1940. They had a one-night stand, and nine months later Mathilde gave birth in a “Lebensborn,” or “Source of Life,” home outside Munich. The home was one of several set up by Heinrich Himmler's dreaded SS [chief] to care for unmarried pregnant women whose racial characteristics, blond hair, blue eyes, no Jewish ancestry, fit the Nazis’ Aryan ideal. At birth, Helga was anointed as one of the Fuhrer's elect, part of a generation of “racially pure” children who would populate the German Empire as it ruled a conquered Europe for the life of the 1,000-year Reich. (My emphasis.)
No doubt some will say that the connection between the Supreme Court’s rationale in Muller v. Oregon and the Nazi “master race” program is, at best, tenuous.
They are mistaken.
To hold women’s “physical well-being” and their production of “vigorous offspring” to be matters of “public interest” so as to “preserve the strength and vigor of the race” is to consider women, as did the Nazis, as a mere state resource—important to the state for their procreational capacity, to be nurtured much like livestock, and for the same reason.
The rationale underlying the Supreme Court’s decision in Muller v. Oregon transcends mere collectivism and even statism, “isms” that deny and negate any possibility of individual rights. In Muller the Supreme Court, perhaps knowingly, perhaps not, gave voice to a doctrine evil in its intent and murderous in its application: the belief that human beings, in that case women, were mere resources to be used, abused, and ultimately disposed of by those holding political power.
Muller v. Oregon was decided by the Supreme Court of the United States in 1908. Less than three decades later, the case’s rationale was on display in Hitler’s Nazi Germany.