Congresswoman Mary T. Norton: Matriarch of the Living Wage
In 1924, Mary Teresa Norton was elected to Congress. She was the first Democratic woman ever elected to Congress, the first woman elected to Congress from a district East of the Mississippi, the first woman to serve as a state party chair, the first woman to chair a national party Platform Committee, and the first member of Congress – male or female – to chair three Congressional committees. She was a savvy and determined politician, a staunch member of the Democratic Party, and liked to think of herself as a champion for working class men and women. Mary Norton served her New Jersey district for twenty-six years and thirteen successive terms in Congress, from 1925 to 1951. As chair of the Labor Committee, she oversaw the passage of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (FLSA) in the House, the nation's first minimum wage law. Norton has said of FLSA, "I'm prouder of getting that bill through the House than anything else I've done in my life."
The fighting over FLSA was intense. A minimum wage law was a major plank in the Democratic platform and an essential part of Roosevelt's New Deal. The Supreme Court was taking a stand against Roosevelt's social program and FLSA was tangled up in Roosevelt's notorious court-packing plan for a while. When the Supreme Court finally capitulated, and abandoned the doctrine of contract liberty, the fight over FLSA became a political brawl in Congress. Norton had to contend with a rift in her party, the ever-changing demands of the American Federation of Labor, and the alliance of Southern Democrats and Republicans against her. But Norton fought, and won, when the Fair Labor Standards Act was passed and signed into law in 1938.
This paper explores Mary Norton's life and her role in that political battle. Her political philosophy, personal morality, and feminism made her a powerful leader during the period just after women were granted the right to vote.
Files in this item
MetadataShow full item record
Showing items related by title, author, creator and subject.