Florence Kelley and the Battle Against Laissez-Faire Constitutionalism
14 Pages Posted: 9 Dec 2010
Date Written: December 1, 2010
The usual story of the demise of laissez-faire constitutionalism in the 1930’s features heroes such as Louis Brandeis, Felix Frankfurter and the great male legal progressives of the day who rose up from academia, the bench, and the bar, to put an end to what historians label "legal orthodoxy." In this essay, I seek to demonstrate that Florence Kelley was a crucially important legal progressive who was at the front lines of drafting and defending new legislation that courts were striking down as violating the Fourteenth Amendment and State constitutions. Looking at who was drafting and lobbying for path breaking progressive legislation and how such legislation was being defended accomplishes a number of things. It uncovers how male legal actors at times worked closely and collaborated with women reformers. Furthermore, thinking about women reformers as central legal actors demands that we examine our own categorical thinking. Placing progressive era women reformers in a non-porous women’s sphere, while imagining that elite male legal thinkers were sealed within an all-male world of academics, lawyers and jurists, distorts late nineteenth and early twentieth century legal culture and leads to what we might call "intellectual segregation." This essay is thus a work of bricolage that brings together the scholarship on women’s leading roles in progressive era reform with mainstream narratives of legal history.
Keywords: Florence Kelley, Progressive era, reform, constitutionalism, women, sociological jurisprudence, Pound, legal realism, Hull House, National Consumers League, Brandeis, Muller, legal history
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