Regulating Paid Household Work: Class, Gender, Race and Agendas of Reform

67 Pages Posted: 30 Jan 2008

See all articles by Peggie R. Smith

Peggie R. Smith

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law


The Article provides a rare glimpse into the legal status of paid household workers, a segment of the American workforce that stands at the very nexus of the ideological divide between the private family and the public market but which has been consistently ignored within legal scholarship. Drawing from primary sources, the Article examines efforts to transform the relationship between maid and mistress into a modern, regulated employment relationship. The Article accords centrality to the ways in which middle-class women campaigned to improve the labor conditions in domestic service during the Progressive Era and the New Deal for purposes of satisfying their own family needs, as opposed to the economic needs of the workers. As an historical piece, the Article highlights how the dichotomy between home and work impeded the evolution of paid household workers from status to contract. As a contemporary piece, the Article argues that the themes which shaped the historical contest over whether to accord domestic workers the benefits and protections of labor legislation remain with us today. As a group that disproportionately consists of poor women of color, today's paid household workers continue to struggle, trapped between a need to provide for themselves and their families and a legal system that tends to accord them protection as "employees" only when doing so satisfies the interests of middle-class families.

Keywords: Domestic Service, Paid Household Work, History, Women's History, Legal History, Labor, Employment

JEL Classification: J71, J30, J16, J15, I31, E24, B10, B20

Suggested Citation

Smith, Peggie R., Regulating Paid Household Work: Class, Gender, Race and Agendas of Reform. American University Law Review, Vol. 48, 1999, Available at SSRN:

Peggie R. Smith (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis - School of Law ( email )

Campus Box 1120
St. Louis, MO 63130
United States

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