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A Class by Herself:
Protective Laws for Women Workers, 1890s–1990s
Nancy Woloch

Winner of the 2016 Philip Taft Labor History Award, Cornell University School of Industrial & Labor Relations
Winner of the 2015 William G. Bowen Award, Industrial Relations Section of Princeton University
Honorable Mention for the 2015 David J. Langum, Sr. Prize for American Legal History/Biography, Langum Charitable Trust

Hardcover | 2015 | $39.50 | £29.95 | ISBN: 9780691002590
352 pp. | 6 x 9 | 10 halftones.
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eBook | ISBN: 9781400866366 |
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Introduction[PDF] pdf-icon

A Q&A with Nancy Woloch

A Class by Herself explores the historical role and influence of protective legislation for American women workers, both as a step toward modern labor standards and as a barrier to equal rights. Spanning the twentieth century, the book tracks the rise and fall of women-only state protective laws—such as maximum hour laws, minimum wage laws, and night work laws—from their roots in progressive reform through the passage of New Deal labor law to the feminist attack on single-sex protective laws in the 1960s and 1970s.

Nancy Woloch considers the network of institutions that promoted women-only protective laws, such as the National Consumers' League and the federal Women's Bureau; the global context in which the laws arose; the challenges that proponents faced; the rationales they espoused; the opposition that evolved; the impact of protective laws in ever-changing circumstances; and their dismantling in the wake of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Above all, Woloch examines the constitutional conversation that the laws provoked—the debates that arose in the courts and in the women's movement. Protective laws set precedents that led to the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and to current labor law; they also sustained a tradition of gendered law that abridged citizenship and impeded equality for much of the century.

Drawing on decades of scholarship, institutional and legal records, and personal accounts, A Class by Herself sets forth a new narrative about the tensions inherent in women-only protective labor laws and their consequences.

Nancy Woloch teaches history at Barnard College, Columbia University. Her books include Women and the American Experience and Muller v. Oregon: A Brief History with Documents.


"Historian Woloch analyzes the fraught history of protective laws for women workers. She skillfully synthesizes many strands of the historiography of protective legislation while making an original contribution with close analyses of the people and particulars of key court cases and decisions that shaped the reformist and legislative landscape over a century. . . . Woloch deftly illustrates how post-1960, arguments for workplace equality based on 14th Amendment protections ultimately trumped those based on difference--but not without difficulty, as evidenced by debates over maternal health and leave policies."--Choice

"Woloch does a remarkable job of pulling a wide array of disparate events together to form a single narrative supporting her central theme. . . . This text is highly recommended for any university or academic law library."--Miriam A. Murphy, Law Library Journal

"A Class by Herself is a masterful history of interest group politics that shaped government, business and labor relations, and gender politics throughout the twentieth century. Labor organizers, clubwomen, judges, pro-business attorneys, reformers and their lawyer allies, bureaucrats, feminists, and aggrieved workers all receive attention in this superb history of protective labor legislation."--Kathleen A. Laughlin, American Historical Review


"A monumental contribution to the history of gendered labor law, Woloch's clear and authoritative guide to this complex topic provides a solid foundation for future scholars. Its commanding perspective offers effective summaries, astute interpretations, and thoughtful connections across a century of social, economic, and political change. This is a book of enduring value to historians, legal scholars, and everyone interested in fairness in the workplace."--Kathryn Kish Sklar, author of Florence Kelley and the Nation's Work

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