Ladies' Pages: African American Women's Magazines and the Culture That Made Them

By Noliwe M. Rooks | Go to book overview

5
No Place Like Home
Domesticity, Domestic Work,
and Consumerism

From such small beginnings, the Afro-American woman was com-
pelled to construct a home. She who had been an outcast, the
caprice of brutal power and passion, who had been educated to
believe that morality was an echo, and womanly modesty a name;
she who had seen father and brother and child torn from her and
hurried away into everlasting separation—this creature was born to
life in an hour and expected to create a home.

Victoria Earle Matthews, 1897

AT the turn of the twentieth century, the possibility of African American women creating a home environment considered culturally acceptable, if not redemptive, was most often connected to their escaping a history of enslavement and to an all-consuming search for a future defined by morality, virtue, and refinement. That women so newly removed from slavery’s reach should be expected to understand and embrace the dominant definition of home and domesticity caused many quite a bit of consternation. Such concerns, expressed as everything from constructive criticism to outright ridicule, occupied no small amount of space in African American women’s magazines at the time. Such publications were a key site for teaching African American women how to embody mainstream discourses surrounding femininity, womanhood, and cultural manifestations of a domestic ideal. In these magazines, and specifically different from the representation of

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