Acting on the recommendation of a British government committee investigating the high incidence in white lead factories of illness among employees, most of whom were women, the Home Secretary proposed in 1895 that Parliament enact legislation that would prohibit women from holding most jobs in white lead factories. Although the Women's Industrial Defence Committee (WIDC), formed in 1892 in response to earlier legislative attempts to restrict women's labor, did not discount the white lead trade's potential health dangers, it opposed the proposal, viewing it as yet another instance of limiting women's work opportunities.
Also opposing the proposal was the Society for Promoting the Employment of Women (SPEW), which attempted to challenge it by investigating the causes of illness in white lead factories. ♦SPEW contended, and WIDC concurred, that controllable conditions in such factories were responsible for the development of lead poisoning.♦ SPEW provided convincing evidence that lead poisoning could be avoided if workers were careful and clean and if already extant workplace safety regulations were stringently enforced. However, the Women's Trade Union League (WTUL), which had ceased in the late 1880s to oppose restrictions on women's labor, supported the eventually enacted proposal, in part because safety regulations were generally not being enforced in white lead factories, where there were no unions (and little prospect of any) to pressure employers to comply with safety regulations.