Constituting Workers, Protecting Women

Gender, Law and Labor in the Progressive Era and New Deal Years
Julie Novkov
Studies historical constitutional development in relation to protective laws for women in the U.S. during the Progressive Era and early New Deal years


Constitutional considerations of protective laws for women were the analytical battlefield on which the legal community reworked the balance between private liberty and the state's authority to regulate. Julie Novkov focuses on the importance of gender as an analytical category for the legal system.

During the Progressive Era and New Deal, courts often invalidated generalized protective legislation, but frequently upheld measures that limited women's terms and conditions of labor. The book explores the reasoning in such cases that were decided between 1873 and 1937. By analyzing all reported opinion on the state and federal level, as well as materials from the women's movement and briefs filed in the U.S. Supreme Court, the study demonstrates that considerations of cases involving women's measures ultimately came to drive the development of doctrine.

The study combines historical institutionalism and feminism to address constitutional interpretation, showing that an analysis of conflict over the meaning of legal categories provides a deeper understanding of constitutional development. In doing so, it rejects purely political interpretations of the so-called Lochner era, in which the courts invalidated many legislative efforts to ameliorate the worst effects of capitalism. By addressing the dynamic interactions among interested laypersons, attorneys, and judges, it demonstrates that no individuals or institutions have complete control over the generation of constitutional meaning.

Julie Novkov is Associate Professor of Political Science and Women's Studies at University of Albany, SUNY.

Praise / Awards

  • "Trained in both law and political science, Julie Novkov has made a major contribution to an understanding of the transitions from the Progressive Era to the New Deal that will be especially important for new institutionalist scholars of the Supreme Court, for students of American political development, and for scholars of gender and politics, women's history, and labor history. It also instructs those activists both inside and outside the legal community who turn to the courts. . . . [A] powerful piece of scholarship."
    —Carol Nackenoff, Swarthmore College, American Political Science Review, December 2002
  • "In her subtle dissection of this process, Novkov offers the notion of 'nodes of conflict'—'contested narrative spaces' on which numerous actors, in and outside the legal community, converge to struggle for their own position—as the dynamic locus from which new legal doctrine springs. This is a useful concept that would be methodologically applicable beyond the field of legal history."
    —Jean V. Matthews, University of Western Ontario, History: Reviews of New Books, Volume 30, No. 2 (Winter 2002)
  • "This book is rich with information about the legal issues of the period discussed. . . . She introduces the reader to reform-minded groups of the Progressive era, including their recognition that litigation can often accomplish a great deal more than legislative action. . . . Constituting Workers provides a perspective that is rich with intellectual substance and important ideas worth pondering."
    —Gloria C. Cox, University of North Texas, Law & Politics Book Review, October 2002
  • ". . . a cogent account of an important legal and historical controversy."
    Michigan Law Review
  • ". . . this book is a very important contribution to our understanding of legal development in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Scholars of the era, as well as scholars interested in law and social change, the gendering of law and legal categories, and mobilization on behalf of causes will find its insights very useful."
    —Laura Hatcher, Northern Illinois University, NEWDEAL@LISTSERV.UIC.EDU, December 16, 2002
  • "this is a thorough analysis very useful for lawyers, social scientists and feminists."
    —Maria-Luz D. Samper, University of Connecticut, Political Studies, Volume 50, No. 2 (June 2002)

Look Inside

Copyright © 2001, University of Michigan. All rights reserved.

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Review Law and Politics Book Review | 10/1/2002

Product Details

  • 336 pages.
  • 1 drawing, 14 tables.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Ebook
  • 2009
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-02286-1

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