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Florence Kelley and the Illinois Sweatshop Law

Document 8

OPINION OF THE SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
FILED MARCH 18, 1895.
RITCHIE VS. THE PEOPLE

      The present prosecution, as is conceded by counsel for both sides, is for an alleged violation of section 5 of said act.  That section is as follows:

      "No female shall be employed in any factory or workshop more than eight hours in any one day, or forty-eight hours in any one week."

      It is contended by counsel for plaintiff in error, that that section is unconstitutional, as imposing unwarranted restrictions upon the right to contract.  On the other hand, it is claimed by counsel for The People, that the section is a sanitary provision, and justifiable as an exercise of the police power of the State.

      Is the restruction thus imposed an infringement upon the constitutional rights of the manufacturer and the employee? . . . .

      It is not the nature of the things done, but the sex of the person doing them, which is made the basis of the claim that the act is a measure for the promotion of the public health. It is sought to sustain the act as an exercise of the police power upon the alleged ground that it is designed to protect woman on account of her sex and physique.  It will not be denied that woman is entitled to the same rights, under the Constitution, to make contracts with reference to her labor as are secured thereby to men.

      As a citizen, woman has the right to acquire and possess property of every kind . . . . Involved in these rights thus guaranteed to her is the right to make and enforce contracts . . . . There is no reasonable ground--at least none which has been made manifest to us in the arguments of counsel--for fixing upon eight hours in one day as the limit within which woman can work without injury to her physique, and beyond which if she work, injury will necessarily follow.

      Our conclusion is, that section 5 of the act of 1893 and the first clause of section 10 thereof are void and unconstitutional for the reasons here stated.

-- Opinion of Supreme Court of Illinois on the Illinois
Eight-Hour Law, Ritchie v. The People, 1895

11. What are the opposing arguments in this case?

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12.  On what grounds did the court declare portions of the 1893 law that regulated working hours for women unconstitutional?

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