Professor Rutgers-Camden wins prestigious 2021 Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Article Award from Association of Black Women Historians: Rutgers-Camden Campus News

November 15, 2021

By Tom McLaughlin

Boyd notes that her article will be a chapter in a book she’s writing about black entrepreneurship and racial capitalism in Detroit during the Great Migration era.

Contrary to what the name suggests, says Kendra Boyd, the Detroit Housewives League was more than a home consumer group. However, one would have to dig to find out the truth.

“As I further researched, it became clear to me that this organization was actually made up of many black businesswomen,” says the assistant professor of history at Rutgers University in Camden. “Equally important, these women would make an integral contribution to business in Detroit at the turn of the 20th century. “

Boyd uncovers the hidden entrepreneurial spirit of the Detroit Housewives League in his article “A ‘Body of Business Makers’: The Detroit Housewives League, Black Women Entrepreneurs and the Rise of Detroit’s African American Business Community,” published in the journal “Enterprise & Society.”

For her years of research on the article, historian Rutgers-Camden was named the recipient of the Letitia Woods Brown Memorial Article Prize in 2021, awarded for the best article on the history of African-American women, awarded by the Association. of Black Women Historians.

A 1933 directory created by the Detroit Housewives League under the auspices of the Booker T. Washington Trade Association. Repertoire images courtesy of Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

Boyd notes that the article has been his passion project dating back to his undergraduate days at Wayne State University. First a business administration student, she recalls, she was researching black women entrepreneurs at the public library when one of the archivists told her about the Detroit Housewives League. She learned that the organization, established in 1930, was seen as a female aide to an organization of black men called the Booker T. Washington Trade Association.

“The women’s organization was presented as an organized group of black female consumers who used their money to support businesses owned by blacks, mainly those owned by black men,” says Boyd, who earned a doctorate. in History from Rutgers University – New Brunswick.

Upon further investigation, however, she discovered that many documents produced under the auspices of the Booker T. Washington Trade Association were in fact produced by members of the Detroit Housewives League. These materials included surveys, business directories, research articles, and recommendations for improving business in the community.

“There’s always been this cross-pollination between the two groups and the members of the Detroit Housewives League actually sat on the board of the men’s organization; they were a key part of the membership, ”she says.

Boyd’s article shows how these important documents were subsequently disconnected from Detroit Housewives League history when they were included in separate archives for the Booker T. Washington Trade Association.

Interior cover of the 1933 directory showing the committee members responsible for creating the directory were women from the Detroit Housewives League. Repertoire images courtesy of Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library

“One of the main reasons the Detroit Housewives League has been misinterpreted is the way these documents are kept in two separate archives,” says Boyd, who is a member of the first cohort of early career researchers at the Rutgers Institute. for the Study of Global Racial Justice.

Historian Rutgers-Camden further postulates that while the Detroit Housewives League name is a misnomer, it was intentional on the part of its members to avoid unwanted attention. She explains that they chose this name to respect “the policy of respectability”.

“As a key strategy, they would try to fit into those respectable categories of what it meant to be women,” Boyd explains. “Keep in mind that this was a different time, where there was a lot of sexism and racism. Black women in particular were attacked by many stereotypes that could be detrimental to them.”

Boyd notes that her article will be a chapter in a book she’s writing about black entrepreneurship and racial capitalism in Detroit during the Great Migration era. She also hopes her article will inspire historians of black women’s history to seek out the leadership and entrepreneurship of black women in other areas, such as politics.

“Or, in some cases,” Boyd says, “maybe we’re looking further into the same places we’ve always looked, but just haven’t seen them.”


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