3 to 5 pm
“We Had a Good Night”: Early 20th Century African American Women’s Economies, Evanston, IL
Doria Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison
An analysis of day and night economies of Black women in domestic service suburbs offers a new perspective on how women supported and contributed to the built community, and simultaneously determined what behaviors and models were culturally feasible—and profitable. Indeed, the prevailing scholarship has documented the labor experiences of Black women migrants, however none have explored how they combined illicit ‘immoral’ activities with more ‘socially acceptable’ forms of labor to produce a livable wage. In Evanston, Illinois, some of the most financially independent women ran gambling houses, party houses with prostitution and ‘treating’, or operated extra-legal prepared food establishments from their homes. Most of these women also worked as domestics. These illicit activities provided some important and well-attended forms of entertainment and were as much a part of the social calendar as church functions, albeit with varying degrees of transparency. These women were surprisingly not always on the fringes of the community, but their existence and money-making activities were often central to their and their families’ welfare, and sometimes higher standard of living—especially with their historic home-ownerwhip rates.
Respondent: Lynn Hudson, University of Illinois at Chicago
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