The Way It Was


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PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF THE BURTON HISTORICAL COLLECTION, DETROIT PUBLIC LIBRARY

1932​The name “Housewives’ League of Detroit” may conjure up quaint images of genteel tea parties, leisurely bridge games, and gossipy luncheons, or it might sound to others like a racy contemporary reality show. In truth, the role of this organization, founded in 1930, couldn’t have been more distant from either assumption. The group was composed of activist African-American housewives, whose simple but steadfast resolve was to promote the patronage of black-owned businesses and, as a result, the employment of more African-Americans, which was particularly vital after the 1929 stock market crash. The Housewives also encouraged shopping at white-owned companies that didn’t discriminate against blacks in their hiring practices. “Don’t buy where you can’t work” was their mantra. Another slogan, according to a 1949 calendar directory, was “Buy, Boost, Build.” The Housewives’ League of Detroit was founded by Fannie Peck, wife of the Rev. William Peck, pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. He also started the Booker T. Washington Trade Association, the inspiration for the Housewives’ group. According to a 1948 Michigan Chronicle article, Fannie started the organization at her home with 50 prospective members. She soon stirred up interest in other U.S. cities, which formed their own chapters. In 1933, a national committee was formed, the National Housewives’ League of America, Inc., which elected Fannie as its first president. Still, the germ of the economically empowering idea was planted in Detroit and grew from here. Pictured are four members of the Detroit group in the early 1930s. A more egalitarian and embracing hiring climate, together with an aging membership, spelled the end of the Housewives’ organization in the mid-’90s, but by then their mark had been stamped.

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