Tuesday, July 29, 2014
 

From Maid to Millionaire

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February 13, 2013 - February 13, 2013

One University Plaza
Springfield, IL 62703
217-206-6073

TIME: 7pm

PRICE: Free

PHONE: 217-206-8507

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The African American female domestic has become an iconic figure in Southern culture, literary texts, and popular films such as The Help and Gone with the Wind. In this multi-media presentation, Dr. Rhondda Robinson Thomas examines the neglected stories of African American domestics in the North, particularly the experiences of young African American women who relocated to Cleveland during the Great Migration and found employment, housing, and recreation at the Phillis Wheatley Association (PWA). Jane Edna Hunter, a descendant of slaves from Pendleton, South Carolina, who arrived in Cleveland nearly penniless in 1905, founded the PWA six years later, slowly building the Association from a 20-room rented house to a 9-story state-of-the art community center. She built support for her work through an extensive network of white businessmen such as Henry Sherwin, founder of Sherwin-Williams Paint Company, and oil magnate John D. Rockefeller Jr. and civil leaders, black businessmen and club women, including Mary McLeod Bethune, Nannie Burroughs, and the National Association of Colored Women, and local Clevelanders and supporters nationwide. Although domestic service was the most viable employment for black women in Cleveland during the early 20th century, Hunter refashioned Booker T. Washington's Tuskegee Model for an urban setting by negotiating higher wages for highly trained domestics who also received certifications in bookkeeping, stenography and other marketable skills to prepare for more lucrative employment opportunities. By the time she retired from the PWA in 1948, Jane Edna Hunter, who had entered the workforce in Cleveland as a domestic, had become a millionaire, shattering the stereotypical ending normally associated with domestic servants. Rhondda Robinson Thomas is assistant professor of African American Literature at Clemson University in Clemson, South Carolina. Thomas earned a PhD in English from the University of Maryland in 2007 and a MA in Literature from the University of New Hampshire in 2000. She is currently conducting research for a documentary about Hunter's life, work, and legacy.

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