Wednesday, September 18, 2019
Emily Prifogle, Law & Laundry: White Laundresses, Chinese Laundrymen, and the Origins of Muller v. Oregon
Forthcoming, Studies in Law, Politics, and Society
This article uses the historian’s method of micro-history to rethink the significance of the Supreme Court decision Muller v. Oregon (1908). Typically considered a labor law decision permitting the regulation of women’s work hours, the article argues that through particular attention to the specific context in which the labor dispute took place — the laundry industry in Portland, Oregon — the Muller decision and underlying conflict should be understood as not only about sex-based labor rights but also about how the labor of laundry specifically involved race-based discrimination. The article investigates the most important conflicts behind the Muller decision, namely the entangled histories of white laundresses’ labor and labor activism in Portland, as well as the labor of their competitors — Chinese laundrymen. In so doing, the article offers an intersectional reading of Muller that incorporates regulations on Chinese laundries and places the decision in conversation with a long line of anti-Chinese laundry legislation on the West Coast, including that at issue in Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886).