“A survey of women workers for Tennessee in 1935 found that black female workers, most of them concentrated in West Tennessee, made a median wage of $5.65 a week in all occupations, less than half the median wage of white women” – Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights by Micheal K. Honey
So what were women doing to earn their $5.65 a week in Ripley? ($5.65 a week x 52 weeks in a year = 293.80 a year)
A quick look at the 1940 US Census reveals the occupations of those employed.
Ella Adams – Age 44, Laundress, 40 hours per week, Income in 1939 $250.00
Frances Claybrook – Age 19, Cook in a private home, 50 hours per week, income in 1939 $108.00
Nellie Alexander – Age 48, Cook/Maid in a private home, 54 hours per week, income in 1939 $198.00
Willie B. Alexander – Age 36 (been working 26 years), cook in a private home, income in 1939 $130.00 (worked 26 weeks)
Pearle Bands – Age 32, maid, 21 hours per week, income in 1939 $208.00
Jessie Henderson – Age 42, cook, 40 hours per week, income in 1939 $156.00
Laura Sullivan – Age 35, cook at a cafe, 60 hours per week, income in 1939 $250.00
Alcie Taylor – Age 50, laundress, 20 hours per week, income in 1939 $78.00
Ella B. Tyus – Age 32, laundress, 48 hours per week, income in 1939 $364.00
Magalena Vaughn – Age 50, cook, 42 hours per week, income in 1939 $260.00
As you can see from this small collection of ladies their yearly income varied. One even made it beyond the $5.65 per week mark. What stands out to me is that their occupations were basically the same. Cook, laundress, or maid were the occupations African American women could look for during this time. Could you imagine graduating from Lauderdale County High School, but having to become a maid or work in another position of servitude? Do any of you have oral histories from your family detailing how your grandmother or great grandmother made a living?
- Source: 1940 US Census Records for Lauderdale County, Tennessee, Southern Labor and Black Civil Rights by Micheal K. Honey