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Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940

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This oral history portrays the lives of African American women who migrated from the rural South to work as domestic servants in Washington, DC in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Living In, Living Out Elizabeth Clark-Lewis narrates the personal experiences of eighty-one women who worked for wealthy white families. These women describe how they encountered—bu This oral history portrays the lives of African American women who migrated from the rural South to work as domestic servants in Washington, DC in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Living In, Living Out Elizabeth Clark-Lewis narrates the personal experiences of eighty-one women who worked for wealthy white families. These women describe how they encountered—but never accepted—the master-servant relationship, and recount their struggles to change their status from “live in” servants to daily paid workers who “lived out.” With candor and passion, the women interviewed tell of leaving their families and adjusting to city life “up North,” of being placed as live-in servants, and of the frustrations and indignities they endured as domestics. By networking on the job, at churches, and at penny savers clubs, they found ways to transform their unending servitude into an employer-employee relationship—gaining a new independence that could only be experienced by living outside of their employers' homes. Clark-Lewis points out that their perseverance and courage not only improved their own lot but also transformed work life for succeeding generations of African American women. A series of in-depth vignettes about the later years of these women bears poignant witness to their efforts to carve out lives of fulfillment and dignity.


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This oral history portrays the lives of African American women who migrated from the rural South to work as domestic servants in Washington, DC in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Living In, Living Out Elizabeth Clark-Lewis narrates the personal experiences of eighty-one women who worked for wealthy white families. These women describe how they encountered—bu This oral history portrays the lives of African American women who migrated from the rural South to work as domestic servants in Washington, DC in the early decades of the twentieth century. In Living In, Living Out Elizabeth Clark-Lewis narrates the personal experiences of eighty-one women who worked for wealthy white families. These women describe how they encountered—but never accepted—the master-servant relationship, and recount their struggles to change their status from “live in” servants to daily paid workers who “lived out.” With candor and passion, the women interviewed tell of leaving their families and adjusting to city life “up North,” of being placed as live-in servants, and of the frustrations and indignities they endured as domestics. By networking on the job, at churches, and at penny savers clubs, they found ways to transform their unending servitude into an employer-employee relationship—gaining a new independence that could only be experienced by living outside of their employers' homes. Clark-Lewis points out that their perseverance and courage not only improved their own lot but also transformed work life for succeeding generations of African American women. A series of in-depth vignettes about the later years of these women bears poignant witness to their efforts to carve out lives of fulfillment and dignity.

49 review for Living In, Living Out: African American Domestics in Washington, D.C., 1910-1940

  1. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

    Clark-Lewis’ grandmother was part of the great migration of African-American women from the south to Washington, DC who then took on domestic work in the homes of the rich and powerful. Through her grandmother, Clark-Lewis was able to contact many of the elderly women who were part of this movement and assemble their oral histories. Utilizing their histories, she paints a picture of the typical life of the African-American women like her grandmother. This is an oral history that I felt, sometimes Clark-Lewis’ grandmother was part of the great migration of African-American women from the south to Washington, DC who then took on domestic work in the homes of the rich and powerful. Through her grandmother, Clark-Lewis was able to contact many of the elderly women who were part of this movement and assemble their oral histories. Utilizing their histories, she paints a picture of the typical life of the African-American women like her grandmother. This is an oral history that I felt, sometimes, focused in too much on the women's looks and surroundings now as opposed to what they had to say about their lives as part of the great migration. I understand the author's fascination with where these unique women ended up, but I wanted to hear their own voices more. That said, this relatively quick read offers a crystal clear picture of how these rural southern girls migrated north, lived in as help for families, then became women asserting their right to live out and have lives of their own. History fanatics might be disappointed by the slight lack of depth or access to the oral histories. Thus, I recommend it to those looking for a quick, enlightening look at the great migration, particularly if they are not normally readers of historic nonfiction. Check out my full review.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Antaje Aldridge

    Elizabeth Clark-Lewis through the narratives of the women who witness the migration and their stories. This book is recommended in showing the discrimination that African American women faced during the Jim Crow era.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Beth

    Interesting analysis of oral histories surrounding African-American women who moved to the North during the Great Migration.

  4. 4 out of 5

    jennet wheatstonelllsl Proc

  5. 5 out of 5

    Zandra Everett

  6. 5 out of 5

    Alan Hassler

  7. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

  8. 4 out of 5

    Leigh J.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sami

  10. 4 out of 5

    Kerry

  11. 4 out of 5

    Beverly Richardson

  12. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  13. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  14. 5 out of 5

    LZ

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charles

  16. 4 out of 5

    Austin High

    331.4 CLA

  17. 5 out of 5

    S.byndom

  18. 5 out of 5

    Ariel

  19. 5 out of 5

    Erin

  20. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

  21. 5 out of 5

    Sherita Wilkinson

  22. 4 out of 5

    Amanda

  23. 5 out of 5

    Regina

  24. 4 out of 5

    Yulonda

  25. 5 out of 5

    Aaron

  26. 4 out of 5

    Monica

  27. 4 out of 5

    Shira

  28. 4 out of 5

    Kimberly Foster

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

  30. 5 out of 5

    Vanessa

  31. 4 out of 5

    Clickety

  32. 4 out of 5

    Brianna

  33. 4 out of 5

    Lori

  34. 4 out of 5

    Paula Hartman

  35. 4 out of 5

    Aiden Bettine

  36. 5 out of 5

    Bakhtawar

  37. 4 out of 5

    Wendi Perry

  38. 5 out of 5

    ayejdubb

  39. 4 out of 5

    Summer

  40. 5 out of 5

    Amanda Lehew

  41. 5 out of 5

    Cherisse

  42. 5 out of 5

    Sophie

  43. 4 out of 5

    Michael Strode

  44. 5 out of 5

    Lindsey Kugler

  45. 5 out of 5

    Dimity

  46. 4 out of 5

    Colette

  47. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

  48. 5 out of 5

    I Be Reading

  49. 4 out of 5

    Mechelle Ancrum

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