John Ryan, "Programme of Social Reform by Legislation," 1909


Fr. John A. Ryan with Supreme Court Justices Hugo Black, William Douglas, & Felix Frankfurter
May 25, 1939 - Courtesy of ACUA

Father John A. Ryan, despite his liberal-political tendencies, was a social conservative. In some instances, the social reform legislation he advocated made distinctions between the needs and capabilities of men, women, and children. Like many people of his time, he believed that women had a vital role to play in the moral formation of children and in the preservation of the moral integrity of society. Accordingly, social reform had to ensure not only a living wage for men, so that women may remain home with their children, but also for women who had to work, legislation that safe-guarded the morality of women in the work place.


Programme of Social Reform by Legislation, 1909


As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

  • What are the erroneous assumptions of Socialist doctrine identified by Fr. Ryan? What protections and opportunities should governments guarantee workers?
  • What is the primary benefit of the eight-hour legislation? What does Ryan think about women working outside of the home? What arguments does he use to support his opinion? What points does Ryan use to justify restrictive legislation on women's and children's labor? How would restricting women's and children's labor affect the wages of male workers?
  • What types of labor activism does Ryan believe should be guaranteed by law? What are his proposals for the arbitration of labor disputes?