Girls as Domestic Workers

From slavery to Jim Crow, African American girls worked in fields and in homes. Girls found themselves serving families and becoming lifelong nursemaids and domestic workers.

Girls as young as three carried heavy babies, scrubbed dirty diapers, and stayed up late to mend clothing.

What would it be like to care for an infant who was also your boss?

Clearly they were workers. The photographs make their work invisible.

Courtesy of Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University

 

From the time a girl can stand—she's being made to work. Girls are started early with work—no play ever for a girl. That's just how they was on girls. Work, work, work.

—Pernelia Ross

Courtesy of Robert Langmuir African American Photograph Collection, Stuart A. Rose Manuscript Archives, and Rare Book Library, Emory University

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-ppmsca-11038

These pictures were popular because including the little girl showed a family's wealth.

Little Girl Propping Up Baby, around 1890s–1920s

I was...the property of their little daughter.

—Harriet Jacobs, 1861

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-USZC4-5251

Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

Courtesy of State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

 

These kids are Helen Keller's nurse and siblings.

Courtesy of Perkins School for the Blind Archives

I was only seven years old when I was sent away to take car' of a baby.

—Harriet Tubman, 1828

Courtesy of Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Courtesy of Randolph Linsly Simpson African-American Collection, James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection in the Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Which children in these pictures had a childhood?

How would you feel if you cared for an infant who gets

a childhood when you don't?

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