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Minnesota Women's Legislative Timeline

Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage

1923 - Protective Labor Laws 

Synopsis: In 1923, the state of Minnesota enacted legislation designed to limit the number of hours women could engage in paid labor. (Laws 1923, Chapter 422)

Legislative History: In 1923, the Minnesota Legislature passed legislation designed to protect women and children from unscrupulous employers and from the rigors of constant manual labor. The law limited the number of hours women could work to no more than 9.5 hours per day or 54 hours per week. The law didn't apply to live-in maids. This law was refined many times over the next several decades. For example, in 1933 a law deleted the restriction on the number of hours a woman could work per day, yet retained the weekly limit of 54 hours. Among other changes, it exempted women 'engaged in the seasonal occupation of preserving perishable fruits, grains, and vegetables.' (Laws 1933, Chapter 354) These laws were representative of the tension between groups of women who wanted protections and exemptions in labor laws, and other groups of women who wanted pure equality and opportunity in labor.

Historical Context: Although the passage of the 19th Amendment prohibited discrimination in voting, many suffragists feared that women could and would still be discriminated against in other areas of their lives. In 1921, suffragist Alice Paul drafted the Equal Rights Amendment, nicknamed the 'Lucretia Mott Amendment,' in honor of the 75th anniversary of the Seneca Falls Convention. The amendment proposed equality for men and women in all legal matters. At the same time, other feminist leaders and legislators were enacting laws that prohibited women from working beyond a set number of hours per week or day. Intended to protect women from sweatshop conditions and lower pay, these laws were in direct conflict with those people who argued instead for equality in all matters. The newly formed League of Women Voters (formerly the National American Women Suffrage Association) strongly lobbied against the Equal Rights Amendment on the grounds that it would invalidate protective labor laws for women. The stalemate between these two groups of feminists on the issue of protective labor laws for women lasted several decades. The 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act provided federal protection for both sexes, but by then gender-specific labor laws were widespread. Supporters of these laws argued women needed to be protected from exploitation. Opponents felt that they protected men from female competition. These laws kept women out of jobs requiring overtime or heavy lifting. During War World II protective labor laws were suspended to allow women to work in war industries, and reimposed after the war when some women were forced to leave their jobs.

This is a joint project of the LCC Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Legislative Reference Library.  The project is made possible by the Arts & Cultural Heritage Fund through the vote of Minnesotans on Nov. 4, 2008. Administered by the Minnesota Historical Society.

MNHS Legacy Grant Receipient Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment