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February 23, 1915



White, McKenna, Holmes, Day, Hughes, Van Devanter, Lamar, Pitney, McReynolds

Author: Hughes

[ 236 U.S. Page 379]

 MR. JUSTICE HUGHES delivered the opinion of the court.

The plaintiff in error, the proprietor of the Glenwood Hotel in the City of Riverside, California, was arrested upon the charge of employing and requiring a woman to work in the hotel for the period of nine hours in a day, contrary to the statute of California which forbade such employment for more than eight hours a day or forty-eight hours a week. Act of March 22, 1911; Stats. 1911, p. 437. It was stated in the argument at this bar that the woman was employed as a chambermaid. Urging that the act was in violation of the state constitution and also that it was repugnant to the Fourteenth Amendment as an arbitrary invasion of liberty of contract and as unreasonably discriminatory, the plaintiff in error obtained a writ of habeas corpus from the Supreme Court of the State. That court, characterizing the statute as one 'intended for a police regulation to preserve, protect, or promote the general health and welfare,' upheld its validity and remanded the plaintiff in error to custody. 162 California, 687. This writ of error was then sued out.

The material portion of the statute, as it then stood, was as follows:

"No female shall be employed in any manufacturing, mechanical or mercantile establishment, laundry, hotel, or restaurant, or telegraph or telephone establishment or office, or by any express or transportation company in this state more than eight hours during any one day or

[ 236 U.S. Page 380]

     more than forty-eight hours in one week. The hours of work may be so arranged as to permit the employment of females at any time so that they shall not work more than eight hours during the twenty-four hours of one day, or forty-eight hours during any one week; provided, however, that the provisions of this section in relation to the hours of employment shall not apply to nor affect the harvesting, curing, canning or drying of any variety of perishable fruit or vegetable."

As the liberty of contract guaranteed by the Constitution is freedom from arbitrary restraint -- not immunity from reasonable regulation to safeguard the public interest -- the question is whether the restrictions of the statute have reasonable relation to a proper purpose. Chicago, Burlington & Quincy R. R. v. McGuire, 219 U.S. 549, 567; Erie R.R. v. Williams, 233 U.S. 685, 699; Coppage v. Kansas, ante, pp. 1, 18. Upon this point, the recent decisions of this Court upholding other statutes limiting the hours of labor of women must be regarded as decisive. In Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412, the statute of that State, providing that 'no female shall be employed in any mechanical establishment, or factory, or laundry' for 'more than ten hours during any one day,' was sustained as applied to the work of an adult woman in a laundry. The decision was based upon considerations relating to woman's physical structure, her maternal functions, and the vital importance of her protection in order to preserve the strength and vigor of the race. 'She is properly placed in a class by herself,' said the court, p. 422, 'and legislation designed for her protection may be sustained, even when like legislation is not necessary for men and could not be sustained. . . . Even though all restrictions on political, personal and contractual rights were taken away, and she stood, so far as statutes are concerned, upon an absolutely equal plane with him, it would still be true that she is so constituted that she will rest upon and look to

[ 236 U.S. Page 381]

     him 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 also largely for the benefit of all. Many words cannot make this plainer. The two sexes differ in structure of body, in the functions to be performed by each, in the amount of physical strength, in the capacity for long continued labor, particularly when done standing, the influence of vigorous health upon the future well-being of the race, the self-reliance which enables one to assert full rights, and in the capacity to maintain the struggle for subsistence.' In Riley v. Massachusetts, 232 U.S. 671, the plaintiff in error had been convicted upon the charge of employing a woman in a factory at a different hour from that specified in a notice posted in accordance with the statute relating to the hours of labor. The general provision of the statute being found to be valid, the particular requirements which were the subject of special objection were also upheld as administrative rules designed to prevent the circumvention of the purpose of the law. The case of Hawley v. Walker, 232 U.S. 718, arose under the Ohio act prohibiting the employment of 'females over eighteen years of age' to work in 'any factory, workshop, telephone or telegraph office, millinery, or dressmaking establishment, restaurant or in the distributing or transmission of messages more than ten hours in any one day, or more than fifty-four hours in any one week.' The plaintiff in error was charged with employing a woman in a millinery establishment for fifty-five hours in a week. The constitutionality of the law as thus applied was sustained by this court.

[ 236 U.S. Page 382]

     It is manifestly impossible to say that the mere fact that the statute of California provides for an eight hour day, or a maximum of forty-eight hours a week, instead of ten hours a day or fifty-four hours a week, takes the case out of the domain of legislative discretion. This is not to imply that a limitation of the hours of labor of women might not be pushed to a wholly indefensible extreme, but there is no ground for the conclusion here that the limit of the reasonable exertion of protective authority has been overstepped. Nor, with respect to liberty of contract, are we able to perceive any ...

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