The issue of the minimum wage is very much in the news today, with both sides on the question of whether it should be raised giving a strong voice to their concerns.
The earliest such laws were not in the United States, but in Australia, New Zealand and Great Britain. In 1896, in Victoria, Australia, the “Factories Act” was amended and a “wage board” was created. This board set basic wages for six industries and by 1904, it covered 150 different industries.
In 1894, New Zealand enacted the first actual minimum wage laws. In 1907, the British government reported on its investigation of the laws in Australia and New Zealand and in 1909, Winston Churchill, then President of the Board of Trade, introduced the “Trade Boards Act.” This act allowed for boards to set minimum wage standards.
In the United States, Massachusetts was the first state to enact minimum wage legislation. The initial acts concerned women and children only and were in reference to labor in the industries where the majority of workers were of course, female. Page 17 of a “Report of the Commission on Minimum Wage Boards (House Bill 1697 of 1912)” speaks to the view of “Women in the workplace” at that time:
A Minimum Wage Commission was established in 1911 and started to publish “Bulletins” in January of 1914. The first bulletins of the Commission were reports on “Wages of Women in the Brush Factories in Massachusetts,” “Wages of Women in the Corset Factories of Massachusetts,” and “Wages of Women in the Laundries of Massachusetts,” among others. The emphasis on factory workers in these industries reflects the times and the employment of women.
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Pamela W. Schofield
Legislative Reference Librarian
State Library of Massachusetts