Doria Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison | Newberry

Doria Johnson, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Friday, November 20, 2015

3 to 5 pm

Room B-84

Center for American History and Culture Programs
Gender and Sexuality Seminar

“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

Cost and Registration Information 

Scholl Center Seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically. For a copy of the paper, email the School Center at scholl@newberry.org. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.