Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush
1896 – 1984
Following in the footsteps of her famous father, Elizabeth Brandeis Raushenbush became an expert on labor legislation in the United States and one of its strongest defenders. Born on April 25, 1896, to Louis and Alice Goldmark Brandeis, her childhood memories were etched by her father’s rapid success as a prominent attorney. In her adult life, Raushenbush defended the constitutionality of protective legislation as the most effective way to ensure wage and hours standards for working men and women, to regulate child labor, and to protect the well-being of the injured and unemployed. She based her support for such laws on empirical evidence that revealed the economic, political, and sociological implications of unregulated working conditions and on her belief that government should work with community groups to pass legislation that equalized the rights of labor and employers.
College training and firsthand community service shaped Raushenbush’s understanding of the need for labor laws. After receiving her B.A. from Radcliffe College in 1918, she was employed for the next five years by the Washington, D.C., Minimum Wage Board, a regulatory body created to enforce a local law that protected women and minors from conditions detrimental to their health and morals resulting from wages inadequate to maintain decent standards of living. As the board’s secretaries, Raushenbush and her lifelong friend Clara Beyer paid for and conducted the important research that exposed businesses that underpaid women and employees who were minors. As secretary, Raushenbush not only played an instrumental role in enabling the board to fulfill its duties, but also enjoyed a useful apprenticeship that established the foundation of her graduate work.
Raushenbush pursued graduate-level studies of social and economic conditions in the department of economics at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. She continued the process of linking scholarly inquiry with the formation and implementation of public policy under the direction of her mentor, John R. Commons. After graduating with a Ph.D. in 1928, Raushenbush taught courses in the economics department at Madison for over forty years and worked with Commons and carried on his traditions after he retired.
Raushenbush contributed the section on labor legislation in volume three of Commons’s famous series, History of Labor in the United States, documenting the historical evolution of maximum hours, minimum wage, child labor, and unemployment compensation laws. In her study “Organized Labor and Protective Labor Legislation” she summarized labor laws passed during the New Deal, especially the National Industrial Recovery Act and Fair Labor Standards Act. In these and other sources, Raushenbush provided both a thorough study of the interaction among the courts, organized labor, and lobby groups in the history of labor laws and an informative resource for current understandings of public policy formation.
Raushenbush’s academic accomplishments did not keep her from active community service. After World War II, she dedicated her time to child labor issues and to the passage of legislation for unemployment insurance. She served on the governor’s Committee on Migratory Labor in Wisconsin and on the United States Labor Department’s Advisory Committee on Young Workers, studying the earnings, working conditions, housing, and education of child laborers and migratory workers. She was particularly concerned with the enforcement of legislation that set minimum age and maximum hours requirements for agricultural workers and that regulated living conditions.
Elizabeth Raushenbush and her husband, Paul Raushenbush, led the fight for the adoption of unemployment insurance in Wisconsin and succeeded in developing a model law that was used by other state governments. Passed in January 1932, the Groves Bill, as it was called, provided workers with ten weeks of benefits each year. Elizabeth Raushenbush supported the law because it compelled employers to accumulate the funds to provide unemployment payments to their employees at a rate based on existing salaries. She described the bill as invaluable because its provisions placed the burden on employers as a way to induce them to stabilize employment and to find jobs for the workers they laid off. The first of its kind, the Groves Bill provided the foundation for the Social Security Act of the New Deal.
In her written work, Raushenbush did not link her reform interests to her religious background. She identified herself as an educator and labor activist. Elizabeth Raushenbush died in April 1984, survived by her son, Walter. Her colleagues remembered her integrity and devotion to a wide range of public problems. Her generosity and ability to target serious social issues, to organize the necessary research, to galvanize others to her cause, and to pursue legislative measures enabled her to leave an indelible mark on late twentieth-century understanding of labor legislation in the United States.
Governor’s Commission on Human Rights. “The Migrant Problem, Past and Future, in Wisconsin.” Proceedings of the Migrant Labor Conference (December 4, 1964): 4–10; “Labor Legislation.” In History of Labor in the United States, 1896–1932. Vol. 3, edited by John R. Commons (reprint, 1966); “Organized Labor and Protective Labor Legislation.” In Labor and the New Deal (1958); “Our ‘UC’ Story,” with Paul Raushenbush. Oral History Project, Columbia University (1979).
BEOAJ; Beyer, Clara M. Interview by Vivien Hart, 1983. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College, Cambridge, Mass.; Haferbecker, Gordon M. Wisconsin Labor Laws (1958); Mason, Alpheus Thomas. Brandeis: A Free Man’s Life (1946); Munts, Raymond. “Unemployment Compensation in Wisconsin: Origins and Performance.” In Unemployment Insurance: The Second Half-Century, edited by James F. Byers and W. Lee Hanson (1990); Raushenbush, Elizabeth Brandeis. Papers, 1920–1967. Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe College; Raushenbush, Elizabeth Brandeis, and Paul Raushenbush. Papers. State Historical Society of Wisconsin; WWIAJ (1938).