Josephine Clara Goldmark (October 13, 1877 – December 15, 1950), was an American political activist and reformer, the chairman of the committee on labor laws for the National Consumers League. She was an aggressive and prolific investigator of labor conditions, advocating for social reforms to create better working conditions for American workers, particularly women and children. Together with Florence Kelley, she conducted extensive research that went into the famous brief her brother-in-law, Louis D. Brandeis, used to win the Muller v. Oregon case on the issue of the impact of long working hours on women. This was the first instance in the United States that social science had been used in law, with the "Brandeis Brief" becoming the model for future United States Supreme Court presentations. The work of Goldmark greatly contributed to the improvement of working conditions in America, an important step in the advance toward a world of peace in which all people are valued as individuals and are able to make valuable contributions to society as a whole.
Josephine Clara Goldmark was born in Brooklyn, New York City, the youngest of ten children to Joseph Goldmark and Regina Wehle. Her father was Austrian-born, and was forced to leave Vienna after the European Revolutions of 1848; her mother and her family were from Prague. After the death of her father in 1881, she grew up under the influence of her sister’s husband, Felix Adler, who founded the Ethical Culture movement.
Goldmark received her bachelor degree from Bryn Mawr College and enrolled in graduate studies at Barnard College in New York City. At the same time she volunteered for the New York branch of the National Consumers League (NCL). There she met Florence Kelley, who became her inseparable companion. She published two compilations of laws, first in 1907, Labor laws for women in the United States, on the laws regulating women’s labor, and in 1908, Child labor legislation, on the laws of child labor. She later served as the chairman of the NCL's committee on legal defense of labor laws.
In 1908, Goldmark managed to persuade her brother-in-law, the famous lawyer Louis D. Brandeis, to represent the state of Oregon in the Muller vs. Oregon case. The case was well-publicized and resulted in the U.S. Supreme Court confirming the restrictions in working hours for women. Goldmark and Kelley had supplied Brandeis with large amounts of material, known as the "Brandeis Brief." With over 100 pages of statistical data, laws, journal articles, and other material, Goldmark, Kelley, and, Brandeis were able to argue in favor of limiting working hours for women. This was the first time in the history of law in the United States that factual and extra-legal data were used, besides pure legal theory, to argue a case.
In 1911, Goldmark served on the committee investigating the Triangle Shirtwaist Company Fire in New York City. In 1912, she published her next study—an 800-page report on Fatigue and Efficiency—in which she argued that short hours increase work productivity. During World War I she served as an executive secretary of the Committee of Women in Industry. She also managed the Women’s Service Section of the US Railroad Administration (1918-1920).
After that, Goldmark became the executive secretary on the Committee for the Study of Nursing Education, convened by the Rockefeller Foundation. In that position, she advocated for higher professionalization of nursing, including better education and training. She conducted an extensive survey of nursing education in America and abroad, the results of which were published in 1923 in Nursing and Nursing Education in the United States. Goldmark was later appointed director of the New York Visiting Nurses Service.
Goldmark devoted her last years to writing. In 1930, she published Pilgrims of ‘48: One man's part in the Austrian revolution of 1848 and a family migration to America, about her family’s life in Austria-Hungary and the United States. Her last work was the biography of Florence Kelley, which was published posthumously in 1953.
Josephine Goldmark died in White Plains, New York, on December 15, 1950.
Goldmark’s career started with her engagement with the work of National Consumers League (NCL), where she served as the chairman of the NCL's committee on legal defense of labor laws. Her passion for social issues was additionally fueled by her friendship with Florence Kelley, one of the leading women activists of the time. Under Kelley’s leadership, NCL advocated for the improvement of working conditions of women working in factories, sweatshops, and stores. Goldmark greatly contributed toward the cause, her writings being powerful, clear, and to the point.
Goldmark’s first publications were her two compilations of laws, Labor laws for women in the United States (1907), and Child labor legislation (1908). In these volumes she basically compiled all the laws that existed in the area of child and women labor. In 1908, together with Florence Kelley she compiled the 100-page "Brandeis Brief," which helped win the case in Miller vs. Oregon.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, many states in the United States started to implement laws that regulated working hours of men and women, but many of those laws were poorly drafted and thus susceptible to misinterpretation. Employers were often complaining to the federal court that those laws were “unreasonable," undermining the free functioning of the market economy. In many cases, the U.S. Supreme Court found such allegations acceptable and would have ruled to overturn the limitation in working hours. Thus, many states had lost their cases on the federal level.
In 1908, however, Oregon state won in the Miller vs. Oregon case, in which the federal court ruled positive on state limit of working hours. Goldmark’s "Brandeis Brief," with more than 100 pages of documents—laws, statistical data, and journal articles—on the topic of the effects of long-hours work for women, helped persuade Supreme Court justices on the harm of long hours of work for women.
In her 1912 work Fatigue and Efficiency, Goldmark claimed that reducing hours of work actually improved workers’ productivity, while improving their quality of life in general. She argued that labor laws need to be specially designed to protect women in the workplace. Goldmark rejected the criticism of many feminists who called for the "total equality" of men and women, saying that women were different from men, and thus need special protection in the workplace. She refused to believe that such protective laws would make women second-class citizens.
The Brandeis Brief was the first brief in United States legal history that relied on analysis of factual data rather than pure legal theory to argue a case. It became the model for future Supreme Court presentations in cases affecting the health or welfare of classes of individuals. Briefs that cited non-legal data quickly became common.
Her work on the Committee for the Study of Nursing Education resulted in the improvement of nursing education in the United States. Nursing training became more professional, with clinical supervision of trainees as the norm.
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