This dissertation traces changes in U.S. injury law and injury culture from the late 1890s through the early 1930s. I argue that workmen's compensation legislation passed in the 1910s helped create new forms of inequality. These laws valued women's injuries less than men's injuries and helped create medicalized employment discrimination against people with disabilities. Compensation legislation replaced a court-based system of injury law with an insurance-based administrative system. Under the old system, many injuries when uncompensated. Under the new system, employers had to pay a portion of the financial costs of every employee injury. Employers responded by trying to control those costs by hiring physicians to conduct medical examinations. These examinations were designed to screen out people with physical disabilities and medical conditions that might raise employers' costs in the event of employee injury. Furthermore, compensation laws encouraged what I call the moral thinning of injury, changing how injury was defined as a problem. Injury was no longer understood as a matter of morality or injustice, but as a matter of lost income, a definition of injury that ignored much of human meaning of injury. These changes occurred against the backdrop of what I call the rise of insurance as a worldview in the late 19th century. This worldview treated people as commodities and treated employee injury as an amoral matter of financial security, a problem to be solved by monetary payments. Compensation laws brought the insurance worldview into employers' hiring decisions, bringing about a re-organization of employment practices. I analyze these changes across a range of institutions using sources including trial records, published legal decisions and treatises, business records, and the records and publications of trade associations and conferences, medical associations and conferences, state commissions, and unions.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. July 2014. Major: History. Advisors: Barbara Welke, Tracey Deutsch. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 417 pages.
`The Compensation Law Put Us Out of Work': Workplace Injury Law, Commodification, and Discrimination in the Early 20th Century United States.
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