Adkins v. Children's Hospital

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Adkins v. Children's Hospital
Seal of the United States Supreme Court.svg
Argued March 14, 1923
Decided April 9, 1923
Full case name Adkins, et al., constituting the Minimum Wage Board of the District of Columbia v. Children's Hospital of the District of Columbia; same v. Willie Lyons
Citations 261 U.S. 525 (more)
43 S. Ct. 394; 67 L. Ed. 785; 1923 U.S. LEXIS 2588; 24 A.L.R. 1238
Prior history Dismissed, D.C. Supreme Court; reversed and remanded, 284 F. 613 (D.C. Cir. 1922)
Subsequent history None
Minimum wage law for women violated the due process right to contract freely.
Court membership
Chief Justice
William H. Taft
Associate Justices
Joseph McKenna · Oliver W. Holmes, Jr.
Willis Van Devanter · James C. McReynolds
Louis Brandeis · George Sutherland
Pierce Butler · Edward T. Sanford
Case opinions
Majority Sutherland, joined by McKenna, Van Devanter, McReynolds, Butler
Dissent Taft, joined by Sanford
Dissent Holmes
Brandeis took no part in the consideration or decision of the case.
Laws applied
U.S. Const. amends. V, XIX; Minimum Wage Law of the District of Columbia, 40 Stat. 960 (1918)
Overruled by
West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937)

Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 261 U.S. 525 (1923), is a United States Supreme Court opinion that federal minimum wage legislation for women was an unconstitutional infringement of liberty of contract, as protected by the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.

Adkins was overturned in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937).


In 1918, Congress passed a law to set minimum wages for women and children in the District of Columbia. As in other cases, the question was one of balancing the police power of Congress to regulate working and living conditions with the right of individuals to conduct their own affairs without legislative interference. Children's Hospital and a female elevator operator at a hotel brought the case to prevent enforcement of the act by Jesse C. Adkins and the two other members of a wage board.


The Court's decision, by Justice Sutherland, was that previous decisions (Muller v. Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) and Bunting v. Oregon, 243 U.S. 426 (1917)) did not overrule the holding in Lochner v. New York, 198 U.S. 45 (1905), which protected freedom of contract. The previous decisions, he noted, addressed maximum hours. The present case addressed a minimum wage. The maximum-hour laws left the parties free to negotiate about wages, unlike the present law, which restricted the employer's side of the negotiation. The Court argued that if legislatures were permitted to set minimum wage laws, they would be permitted to set maximum wage laws. Sutherland J cited the changes that had occurred in the years since Muller, particularly the Nineteenth Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote for women. He notes that Muller and other cases had emphasized differences between men and women as justifying special protection for women, but "[in] view of the great—not to say revolutionary—changes which have taken place since [Muller], in the contractual, political, and civil status of women, culminating in the Nineteenth Amendment, it is not unreasonable to say that these differences have now come almost, if not quite, to the vanishing point."

Chief Justice Taft, dissenting, argued that there was no distinction between minimum wage laws and maximum hour laws since both were essentially restrictions on contract. He noted that Lochner's limitations seemed to have been overruled in Muller and Bunting.

Justice Holmes, also dissenting, noted that there were many other constraints on contract (such as blue laws and usury laws). He cited the standard that he had put forth in Lochner: if a reasonable person could see a power in the Constitution, the Court should defer to legislation that used such a power.


  • Bernstein, David E. Rehabilitating Lochner: Defending Individual Rights against Progressive Reform. Chapter 4. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011. ISBN 0-226-04353-3
  • Cushman, Clare (2001). Supreme Court Decisions and Women's Rights: Milestone to Equality. Washington, DC: Congressional Quarterly. pp. 19–20. ISBN 1-56802-614-5. 
  • Hart, Vivien (1994). Bound by our Constitution: Women, Workers, and the Minimum Wage. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03480-X. 
  • Zimmerman, Joan G. (1991). "The Jurisprudence of Equality: The Women's Minimum Wage, the First Equal Rights Amendment, and Adkins v. Children's Hospital, 1905-1923". Journal of American History. 78 (1): 188–225. doi:10.2307/2078093. JSTOR 2078093. 

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