Women and Gender Seminar: Crystal Moten, University of Wisconsin and Lashawn Harris, Michigan State University

Women and Gender Seminar
Friday, March 4, 2011

3:00 pm to 5:00 pm

Working Women: African American Women’s Livings and Lives in the Twentieth-Century North

“ ‘The Pride of Ownership:’ African-American Businesswomen in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (1940s-1960)
Crystal M. Moten, University of Wisconsin-Madison

During the late 1940s and 1950s, African-American businesswomen in the city of Milwaukee used their business acumen and professional networks to provide services for the growing African-American community, forge interracial alliances, and critique the status quo that sustained de facto segregation and discrimination in the city of Milwaukee. This paper explores the contests these women faced within and outside of the African-American community as they struggled to realize their own, often intertwined, goals of economic development and community empowerment. By exploring these women and their tactics for achieving justice, we come to a more nuanced understanding of activism and politics during the long civil rights movement of the 20th century.

“Playing the Numbers: Madame Stephanie St. Clair and African American Informal Economies in Early-Twentieth-Century Harlem
Lashawn D. Harris, Michigan State University

Madame Stephanie St. Clair, also known as the “Numbers Queen,” was probably the only African American female numbers banker who controlled New York City’s illegal numbers racket during the “New Era” of the 1920s. This paper critically examines the unique public persona and criminal activities of Stephanie St. Clair. Providing a nuanced reading of urban black women, this study diverges from existing historical scholarship that focuses on middle-class African American women. Instead, it delineates how less familiar black women like Stephanie St. Clair refashioned, and at times complicated, black elite interpretations of female work, respectability, and race politics.

Commentator: Martha Biondi, Northwestern University