Josephine Goldmark

Josephine Goldmark (1877-1950), believing that most political and economic problems could be resolved by disciplined intelligence, devoted her life to helping agencies of government improve the lot of women and children.

Josephine Goldmark was the youngest of ten children. Her father, a chemist, had been forced to flee from Vienna after the Revolution of 1848; her mother had been brought to the United States from Prague about the same time. The children, proud of their European background, became enthusiastic Americans. Josephine received her BA from Bryn Mawr College. While doing graduate work at Barnard she volunteered for the New York branch of the Consumers' League, where her older sister Pauline was secretary.

The Consumers' League had been founded in 1891 to try to influence employers to improve the working conditions of shopgirls. A decade later, under the direction of Florence Kelley, the league was concerned with women working in factories, sweatshops, and homes, as well as in stores. Until Kelley's death in 1932, Goldmark was a friend and ally. Without Kelley's penchant for public agitation, Goldmark contributed painstaking research, and her writings were all the more powerful because they were understated and unrhetorical.

In the early 20th century some states were beginning to regulate the hours, or the wages, or the "conditions of labor" of children, or women, or all workers. Some of the legislation was poorly drafted or based on slight knowledge of the facts; there were seldom provisions for effective administration. Even more important, employers found the federal courts sympathetic to their protests that labor legislation "unreasonably" abridged the ability of employers and employees to contract freely with each other. In 1905, for example, the Supreme Court declared that a New York law was unreasonable in limiting to ten the number of hours in a day which a man could be employed in a bakery.

Goldmark's first publication was a compilation in 1907, for the benefit of state legislatures, of the laws already passed regulating child labor. The next year, learning that the Supreme Court was going to review an Oregon law limiting. The number of hours a woman could work in a laundry (or a factory), Goldmark was able to persuade Louis D. Brandeis, her brother-in-law, to help defend the law. The result was the now-famous "Brandeis brief." In only two pages Brandeis discussed the legal issues; Goldmark had supplied him with more than 100 pages of documents— laws, parliamentary investigations, the findings of social theorists—to show that reasonable people reasonably concluded that women in the workforce required special protections. The Supreme Court accepted this novel mode of argument, declaring that, given woman's "disposition and habits of life," some legislation "to protect her seems necessary" to secure the "real equality" to which she is constitutionally entitled.

In 1912 Goldmark published an 800-page study, Fatigue and Efficiency, which argued that reducing hours not only increased output, but also improved the quality of life of the worker and the worker's family. A realistic legislature and judiciary would, she argued, consider such reasonable goals as fully justifying intelligent labor legislation. In rejecting the arguments of "critics"—mostly male, mostly employers—Goldmark anticipated the protests of some feminists in the 1920s and later that any legislation specifically "protecting" women made them second-class citizens. To argue that way, she declared, was "superficial"; anyone who faced "the facts" had to acknowledge that women were different enough to require special consideration.

Goldmark was executive secretary of a special committee on nursing convened by the Rockefeller Foundation immediately after World War I; she was the principal author of the report Nursing and Nursing Education in the United States (1923). Public interest in nursing had soared during the war and the devastating epidemic of influenza in 1918-1919. In previous decades major reforms had been accomplished in the training of doctors, lawyers, and engineers, but many nurses-in-training were still regarded as apprentices at best, cheap labor at worst. Goldmark carried out an exhaustive survey of nursing education in America and abroad, and she called for a basic liberal arts education, carefully supervised clinical training, and professional work for such key specialties as public health nursing. Subsequently Goldmark served as a director of the New York Visiting Nurses Service.

Always a private person, Goldmark in her later years, while maintaining her friendship with such leaders as Frances Perkins and Eleanor Roosevelt, devoted an increasing amount of her time to writing. In 1930 she published Pilgrims of '48, a discursive account of her parents' experiences in Austria-Hungary and the United States. In 1936 she showed her admiration for the "social engineering" that sustained Democracy in Denmark. At her death she was at work on a biography of Florence Kelley (published posthumously in 1950 as Impatient Crusader.

Further Reading on Josephine Goldmark

There is a good biographical sketch in Notable American Women (1971). See the obituary in the New York Times for December 16, 1950. An excellent account of a generation of reformers, including Goldmark, is Robert Bremner, From the Depths: The Discovery of Poverty in the United States (1956). A recent survey of the difficult experiences of wage-earning women in the United States is Alice Kessler-Harris, Out to Work (1982).